msnbc.com news services
updated 10/26/2006 9:09:42 AM ET 2006-10-26T13:09:42

Six suspects were under investigation in the scandal over pictures of German soldiers posing with a skull in Afghanistan , and military officials have been instructed to review training for foreign deployments, the defense minister said Thursday.

Franz Josef Jung also repeated his vow that such behavior had “no place” in Germany’s military.

“Anyone who behaves like this has no place in the army,” the minister told the Bundestag lower house of parliament. “We will enforce all consequences, both criminal and disciplinary.”

Jung said he was glad that investigators had been able within only 24 hours to identify six suspects. Two had initially been suspected; of the six, four are no longer in the military, he said.

He said he had instructed the army’s inspector general, Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, to review training procedures. But he warned against a “wholesale judgment” of the German soldiers deployed in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sudan, Djibouti, Congo and Lebanon.

More obscene photos
The Bild newspaper, which first published the photographs Wednesday, ran more Thursday, again blacking out the faces of the soldiers. It did not say where it obtained the photos, which it dated to early 2003.

The pictures of the soldiers handling the skull — one is pictured with it next to his exposed genitals — and putting it on the hood of their vehicle have led to expressions of disgust among German officials.

Another splashed on the front page of Thursday’s edition showed two soldiers putting the skull on the front of their jeep under the headline: “Desecration of the dead in Afghanistan.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel called them “repugnant” and said they “can be excused by nothing.”

Diplomatic missions on alert
Meanwhile, Germany’s Foreign Ministry alerted its missions in the Afghan capital Kabul and across the Middle East.

“The embassies were informed early on about the pictures and made aware of their contents in order that they could take the necessary steps in terms of their security measures,” a ministry spokesman said.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung condemned the pictures, splashed across Bild’s front pages on Wednesday and Thursday, and said the army would launch an investigation into the training given to troops stationed abroad.

‘A warning signal’
Prosecutors in Potsdam, where the military has its command center for deployments abroad, have opened an investigation for possible charges of disturbing the peace of the dead.

The pictures’ publication has caused dismay in part because Germany is proud of its post-World War II military training rules, which reflect lessons drawn from the Nazi era by urging soldiers to take responsibility for their actions.

The Roman Catholic bishop assigned to the German military, Walter Mixa, said the scandal showed that training needed to be reviewed.

“The training for foreign deployments for German soldiers must be improved,” Mixa, also the bishop of Augsburg, said on ZDF public television. “The scandal over the photos is a warning signal.

Image concerns
Newspapers were concerned over damage to the army’s image.

“German soldiers pose in Afghanistan with a human skull and bring the entire mission into disrepute,” daily Die Welt said. ”It is not the first scandal involving the Bundeswehr but it could be the one with the greatest consequences.”

The pictures were apparently taken more than three years ago during a routine tour around the Afghan capital Kabul.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday he did not think the photographs would make the situation worse for the 3,000 German troops in Afghanistan.

“It is naturally not good for the image of the Bundeswehr, nor for the image of NATO,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio. “But this is the exception and not the rule.”

Bild has not said how it knows the photos are genuine, or how it obtained them. On Wednesday, it quoted an unidentified army member as saying they were taken in the spring of 2003 and that the skull may have come from a mass grave.

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