* U.S. Army apologizes for distress caused by photos
* Five soldiers charged with murdering 3 Afghan villagers
* Soldier Jeremy Morlock to testify against co-defendants (Refiles to delete extraneous last line)
BERLIN, March 21 (Reuters) - Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine published photos on Monday of American soldiers posed over the bloodied corpse of an Afghan civilian whose slaying it said is being prosecuted by the U.S. military as premeditated murder.
Disclosure of the images, among dozens seized as evidence in the prosecutions but kept sealed from public view by the military, prompted the U.S. Army to issue an apology “for the distress these photos cause” and condemning actions depicted in them as “repugnant.”
One photo shows a soldier identified as Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, of Wasilla, Alaska, broadly smiling in sunglasses as he crouches beside the bloodied, prone body of a man whose head he is holding up for the camera by the hair.
A second soldier, Private First Class Andrew Holmes, 20, is seen in a separate photo kneeling over the same corpse, also raising the victim’s head by the hair.
As published by Der Spiegel and circulated elsewhere on the Internet, the face of the body has been deliberately blurred in the pictures to render it unidentifiable.
Lawyers for both soldiers confirmed to Reuters that their respective clients are the soldiers who appear in the images.
Morlock and Holmes are among five Stryker Brigade soldiers facing court-martial at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Washington, on charges of premeditated murder stemming from the deaths of three Afghan villagers whose killings were allegedly staged to look like legitimate combat casualties.
According to his lawyers, Morlock has agreed to plead guilty later this week to three counts of murder and other offenses and to testify against his co-defendants.
Under the plea deal, still subject to approval by a military judge, he would receive a 24-year prison sentence, as opposed to the life term he faced if convicted of all charges.
Holmes has reached no such deal. Defense lawyers insist Holmes is innocent and have sought, so far unsuccessfully, to force the military to unseal a number of photos they say would help exonerate their client on one count of murder. (Reporting by David Stamp in Berlin; Additional reporting by Laura L. Myers in Seattle; Editing by Louise Ireland, Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)