The most inflammatory spin on the grisly act didn’t come from Muslim fundamentalists, but from a loudspeaker attached to the roof of a US Humvee near the smouldering corpses: ‘Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned.’
This incendiary bit of propaganda, implying a deliberate defilement of Islamic burial practices, was the brainchild of the army’s little known Psychological Operations unit. Intended to ‘smoke out’ Taliban rebels, it instead sparked an international outrage, prompted a cessation of all ‘PsyOps’ in Afghanistan, and provided a rare and disturbing look behind the basic psychology of psyc war.
Diary Entry – May 6, 2008
We sat around for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, when I heard a loud bang, then felt this huge pressure come through the car we were in. It was like a suffocating blanket of heat and pressure inside the cabin and the car lifted. Then everything went black and silent. It felt like the world just vanished. I don’t know if I saw black smoke or dust or whether I was unconscious. My head was throbbing, my ears were ringing. I had no idea what was happening. But even as I write days later, my memory of the blast is so vivid I can almost feel it all over again. It’s become a very surreal but frightening thought, and God knows how many times I’ve rerun the moment of impact and its aftermath over in my mind. The force of the explosion, the loud bang and the darkness come to me regularly. It was as though the world stopped, like time somehow stood still.
I began to take pictures of the chaos and of the police under fire taking cover. I remember asking the Afghan cameraman if I was okay. I could feel blood in my hair and I had no idea if I was badly injured or not. The cameraman looked terrified and was probably in shock too. He was filming me. I looked back for the first time to the car I’d been sitting at the time of the explosion. I saw many bodies strewn around the car. There was one large pile of bodies about five metres away from where I’d been sitting.
I took pictures frantically. It helped me distance myself from the bloodbath and reality – seeing the destruction through my lens was like a shield that lessened the impact. Everywhere I pointed my camera I saw mangled bodies, people shredded like mince meat, their clothes ripped away from their bodies, body parts all around me. I saw one completely severed leg at the knee and another leg by the police boom gate. There was a man with his head blown apart and he was actually holding what looked like his entire brain intact. Streams of blood flowed in every direction, making patterns in the dirt. I saw one young boy, his body face up and his face down in the dirt, but there was nothing really there, it appeared to be only skin still holding a face intact. It was carnage all around me, wherever I looked there was horror.
I read that the bomber was a 12-year old boy selling papers. A fucking 12-year-old boy. Has Afghanistan sunk this low?
I hope my pictures help to illustrate and illuminate both the individual suffering and the important socio-political stories of Afghanistan. It is a complex place that defies easy answers, but if my photography can reawaken a sense of responsibility to anyone out there that will listen, then I feel I’ve achieved something.