The U.S. Army on Monday apologized for any distress caused by recently published photos of American soldiers posing with dead Afghans, calling their content "disturbing" and "in striking contrast" to the Army's standards and values.
The Army issued a statement in response to graphic images that Rolling Stone magazine posted on its website on Monday _ about a week after the German news magazine Der Spiegel published three of the photos.
Rolling Stone says the photos are linked to an ongoing war crimes probe involving members of the 5th Stryker Brigade, based south of Seattle. Five soldiers from the platoon have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of three unarmed Afghan men last year.
Rolling Stone obtained about 150 photos in all, said Eric Bates, the magazine's executive editor. It posted 17 of them on its website, along with two videos it says show U.S. attacks on Afghans.
Bates would not say how the magazine obtained the pictures.
Two of the photos show soldiers charged in the case _ Spc. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, and Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho _ crouching alongside an Afghan youth and lifting the victim's head by its hair. Two other photos show the body of the same Afghan youth, identified by Rolling Stone as Gul Mudin, one of the victims in the case.
Morlock, the first of the five to be court-martialed, was sentenced last week to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder, as well as conspiracy and other charges. He said the killings were part of a deliberate plan to murder Afghan civilians.
Morlock's attorney did not respond to requests for comment Monday from The Associated Press.
Daniel Conway, Holmes' attorney, said he doesn't think the latest publication will affect his client's upcoming court martial. He said Holmes was ordered by his superiors to pose with the body.
"That photo wasn't his idea," Conway said Monday. "He was a 19-year-old private, and they told him to come over, get in the picture and he got in the picture."
Rolling Stone says the photos are from a cache of images the Army has kept secret, even from defense attorneys in the case, because it fears another scandal like the one that erupted over photos showing prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Among the photos are pictures of the accused soldiers holding captured weapons as well as gruesome pictures of dismembered bodies that the magazine said are unrelated to the war crimes probe.
Photographs held by the military in the case are under a protective order that remained in place Monday, said Army spokeswoman Maj. Kathy Turner.
The Associated Press has written about the photos' existence and how soldiers passed them around in emails and thumb drives.
In its statement, the Army expressed its commitment to accountability.
"We must allow the judicial process to continue to unfold and be mindful that the government has distinct obligations to the victims and to the accused, which include compliance with the Court's protective order to ensure a fair trial," the statement said.
Associated Press writer Chris Hawley in New York contributed to this report.