Christopher Wilson was arrested in October in Polk County, Florida, on obscenity charges. Mr. Wilson’s pornographic website contains pictures of the wives and girlfriends of his paying customers posing and engaging in sex acts, and he claims that about a third of his reported 160,000 customers are in the U.S. military. When some of those troops stationed in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq complained that their credit-card numbers were not being properly processed, the patriotic pornographer struck a deal with them: In exchange for access to the site, they would provide him with ghastly war-scene photos.

Wilson’s site has posted grisly photos of dead Iraqis, including pictures of severed body parts and internal organs, with U.S. troops mocking the dismembered bodies. The caption “What every Iraqi should look like” accompanied one photo of a disemboweled man. Another had U.S. personnel pointing to a badly burned Iraqi corpse. The caption read: “Cooked Iraqi.” Other photos asked viewers to guess which body parts were being shown. (These are only a few examples of the site’s contents—others were even more shocking.)

Wilson’s lawyer, Larry Walters, has said that his client simply wanted to “entertain” the troops and that he is suspicious the case is “political.” In fact, the grotesque photos prompted protests from U.S.-based Muslim groups. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd stated that Wilson had been under scrutiny previously, but the “horrific” photos had “shocked the sensibilities of the community” and were therefore obscene, prompting Wilson’s arrest.

Military spokesmen have said they are investigating the story. Lt. Col. John Robinson, a Pentagon public-affairs officer, has commented that downloading or viewing pornography on military computers is a violation of regulations and could result in nonjudicial charges against the guilty parties. In these cases, commanders can take steps such as garnishing wages, reducing rank, ordering extra duty, or even handing out jail time. Robinson added, however, that the gory battlefield scenes were a “much more serious” matter. (The Pentagon had previously taken steps to block military access to Wilson’s site, following reports last year of pornographic photos of female U.S. personnel turning up on the site.)

Some of the troops involved, as well as Wilson, apparently saw themselves as doing something laudable, even patriotic. One press review of the pictures (I could not bring myself to go to Wilson’s site and view them) reproduced this caption from a photo of dead Iraqis killed at a U.S. checkpoint: “These are things that we have to do. Some of us don’t like it but it must be done to protect ourselves and our way of life. These are here to show we don’t take anything lightly.” Wilson, himself an ex-police officer, seemed proud of the photos. According to the Guardian, each column of war photos is headed by a paragraph denouncing censorship. “America is advanced citizenship,” it reads, “America isn’t easy.” Former assistant judge advocate general Michael Marchand, now retired, recently commented that, in the past, he would have thought stories of American troops taking pictures of mangled corpses — much less bartering them for pornography —a lie. And now? “I’m not sure I can guess anymore.”

The Bush White House has been so sensitive about U.S. dead that it has blocked journalists from taking photographs of flag-draped coffins and has protested Al Jazeera broadcasting footage of dead and captured U.S. troops. But the administration showed its true colors when it allowed photos of the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons to be distributed to news media. The White House, for all of its posturing, hardly seems to be in a position of moral authority in the matter of media exploitation of graphic war images.

The actions of U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib, the very under-reported war-porno scandal, and the latest reports of U.S. personnel taunting Afghan insurgents by desecrating the bodies of their dead comrades say something about both the Bush administration and ourselves. This is partly a story of a “Christian” administration that has no sense of decency and nothing but contempt for traditional rules of warfare. That some of the troops in the field reflect that contempt is no surprise. But it is also the story of an American military that reflects the society in which it is rooted.

There are undoubtedly U.S. troops out there who deserve to be called “heroes.” Capt. Ian Fishback, for example, has shown great moral courage in blowing the whistle on the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most soldiers carry out their duties honorably. But there is too much scandalous smoke for there to be no fire. The America that produced Alvin York and Audie Murphy is long gone. What we have instead is the fictional tale of Jessica Lynch, the Bush administration’s manipulation of the tragic death of Pat Tillman, and the depraved antics of Lynndie England, Charles Graner, Chris Wilson, and friends.