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article imageUS Army 'kill team' allegedly murdered Afghan innocents for sport

By Lynn Herrmann     Sep 10, 2010 in Crime
As the US occupation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, 12 US soldiers are facing various charges over their involvement of murdering at random a number of Afghan civilians and then keeping body parts as trophies.
Twelve American soldiers are facing charges over their involvement in a secret “kill team” that is alleged to have randomly blown up and shot Afghan civilians, posing beside the dead bodies for pictures, and then taking fingers as war trophies.
Charging sheets obtained from the US Army show five soldiers charged with using grenades and firearms to murder three Afghan civilian men. They are listed as Staff Sgt Calvin Gibbs, Cpl Jeremy Morlock, Pte First Class Andrew Holmes, Specialist Adam Winfield and Specialist Michael Wagnon.
Seven others were accused of stabbing an Afghan corpse, possessing or taking pictures of casualties and beating other personnel in efforts to cover up the incidents.
Three of the soldiers are also charged with using a controlled substance.
The charges appear to be some of the most serious war crimes to have emerged in the Afghan occupation, an occupation that President Obama recently referred to as a “tough slog.”
Investigators and legal documents show discussions within the group on killing Afghan civilians began shortly after Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs arrived in November 2009 at forward operating base Ramrod, located near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.
A report in The Guardian states soldiers told the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) that Gibbs, 25, bragged of his exploits while in the Iraq occupation, saying how easily one could “toss a grenade at someone and kill them.”
The investigation said Gibbs, along with Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the brigade formed a “kill team” to perform random executions, allegedly killing at least three Afghan civilians in the following months.
The first incident occurred in January when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay. While some soldiers were speaking to village elders, Morlock and Holmes were assigned security duty near the edge of a poppy field. According to Morlock’s statements in court documents, an Afghan civilian named Gul Mudin emerged from the poppy field, stopping behind a low wall between him and the soldiers.
Morlock then threw a grenade, given to him by Gibbs, over the wall to kill Mudin, according to Morlock’s statement. Holmes was then ordered to fire over the wall. He was unsure whether he hit anyone. Holmes has stated that Morlock threatened his life if anyone were told of the incident.
The second incident occurred the following month when Marach Agah was murdered. Based on Morlock’s statements, Army prosecutors allege Wagnon joined Morlock and Gibbs in the activity. Morlock states Gibbs shot Agah, placing an AK-47 by his corpse so the act would appear to be self-defense.
The Seattle Times notes that Colby Vokey, an attorney for Wagnon, says other soldiers have contradicted Morlock’s statements. Some told investigators they heard shots perhaps indicating the civilian fired first. Either way, Vokey claims his client is innocent with no knowledge of any murders being committed.
The third murder took place in May when Mullah Adadhdad was shot and attacked with a grenade. Morlock and Gibbs are accused of the killing, along with Winfield.
The killings came to light later that month when the Army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who reported to his superiors that unit members were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported members of the unit regularly smoked the drug while on duty and at times stole it from civilians.
The assaulted soldier, straight from basic training, said he was witness to the hashish smoking and consumption of smuggled alcohol but initially failed to report the incidents out of troop loyalty. However, when he returned from an army headquarters assignment and found soldiers using a shipping container he was billeted to smoking the hashish he then reported it.
Two days after that Gibbs and Morlock, along with other members of the unit, accused him of “snitching” and then assaulted him, telling him to keep his mouth shut. The soldier reported the beatings to his superiors and told investigators what he knew of the “kill team.”
The original accused five were arrested in June, followed by the arrest of seven others last month who were charged with attempting to cover up the murders and the assault on the soldier whose statements initiated the investigation.
The News Tribune reports Gibbs’ attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, said his client maintains the killings were “appropriate engagements” and denies involvement in a conspiracy to kill Afghan civilians.
It also reports that, after the first killing, the father of Winfield repeatedly tried passing an urgent message from his son to the Army that troops had murdered an Afghan civilian and more killings were being planned.
The News Tribune also reports that in an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Christopher Winfield refutes his son’s involvement in the killings. The first clue that something was amiss came on January 15, the day of the first killing.
In a Facebook message sent to his parents, the younger Winfield wrote: “I’m not sure what to do about something that happened out here but I need to be secretive about this.” He did not immediately furnish more details and during the course of the next month had little contact with his parents.
Then on February 14, in an internet chat with his parents, he said members of his unit killed “some innocent guy about my age just farming.” He claims to not have witnessed the killing, but wrote that those involved had urged him to “get one of my own.”
His message also claims that almost everyone in the platoon was aware of the activities, but no one was objecting.
“If you talk to anyone on my behalf, I have proof that they are planning another one in the form of an AK-47 they want to drop on a guy.” He added that he had no one he could trust and feared for his well-being if fellow soldiers found out he was talking to authorities.
“Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it,” he wrote. “There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday.”
The younger Winfield asked his parents for help by calling an Army hotline because he feared that someone might overhear him using a phone.
Mr. Winfield, himself a Marine veteran, was stunned, and phone records show he made five calls to military officials that day.
Among them, he left a message on a Defense Department hotline, and also called four numbers at Fort Lewis. He left a message at an Army CID office, spoke with an on-duty sergeant, and finally reached the base’s command center.
In that phone conversation, an official explained that if his son was unwilling to come forward while deployed, there was nothing the military base could do, according to the AP interview and a sworn statement to Army investigators.
The official suggested he tell his son to keep his head down until his deployment ended and investigators could substantiate his claims. Although the elder Winfield did identify his son, he claims he did not write down names of those he spoke with.
Soon thereafter, his son expressed concern if stateside Army officials began asking questions. He asked his dad to back off, of which the elder Winfield complied. A week after that the second killing took place.
The soldiers were members of the Army’s Fifth Stryker brigade, based in Washington state and deployed to Afghanistan last year.
According to BBC, Army spokeswoman Major Kathleen Turner has said the investigation is in a preliminary phase and military prosecutors have yet to make a decision on proceeding.
Among the charges, military prosecutors say Gibbs was in possession of leg bones, finger bones, and a tooth retrieved from Afghan corpses. He showed the fingers to another soldier and threatened to kill him if he reported the drug use to commanding officers.
Much of the case is centered around statements made by Morlock, who has played a significant role in helping the Army build its case. He has provided numerous details about the killings and has also implicated others. But his credibility appears to be an issue as the case proceeds.
Michael Waddington, an attorney for Morlock, said he will attempt to have Morlock’s statements withdrawn because he was under the influence of prescription drugs from battlefield injuries when the statements were made.
The Seattle Times notes that Waddington claims in order for Morlock to remain stationed in Afghanistan, he was given a “cocktail” of legal prescription drugs including muscle relaxers, anti-depressants and a sleep drug often given to soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Our position is that his statements were incoherent, and taken while he was under a cocktail of drugs that shouldn't have been mixed," Waddington said. "What he said is not consistent with other evidence that comes out of the case."
The accusations emerge as a majority of the American public have grown weary of the Afghan conflict, an occupation now in its ninth year. Poll numbers show the Afghan war as one of the factors contributing to President Obama’s low approval rating going in to mid-term elections.
The Seattle Times reports that Col. Harry Tunnell, commander of the 5th Brigade was interviewed in July but declined comment on the investigation. However, he noted the investigation leading to the criminal charges was initiated by the brigade itself, showing that it “is a good comment on how the system is supposed to work.”
More on this story can be found here.
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