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Photos of Afghan 'murder' are published

A photograph of a US soldier smiling as he posed with the bloodied and partially naked corpse of an Afghan civilian was among those published yesterday in Germany -- despite attempts by army officials to keep them under wraps as part of a war crimes probe.

The photos published by Der Spiegel were among several seized by army investigators looking into the deaths of three unarmed Afghans last year.

Five soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the case.

Officials involved in the courts-martial had issued a strict protective order, seeking to severely limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. Some defence teams had been granted copies but were not allowed to disseminate them.

It was not immediately known how Der Spiegel obtained copies.

One of the published photographs shows a key figure in the investigation, Cpl Jeremy Morlock, grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by the hair. Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Morlock was charged with killing on January 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province.

Another photo shows Private 1st Class Andrew Holmes holding the head of the same corpse.

A third photo depicts two apparently dead men propped against a small pillar. Der Spiegel said the photo was seized from a member of the platoon, but did not involve the deaths being investigated as war crimes.

Soldiers have told investigators that such photos of dead bodies were passed around like trading cards on thumb drives and other digital storage devices. The killings at issue occurred during patrols in January, February and May 2010.