US soldiers 'killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies'Soldiers face charges over secret 'kill team' which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war
Chris McGreal in Washington The Guardian, Thursday 9 September 2010 Article history Andrew Holmes, Michael Wagnon, Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield are four of the five Stryker soldiers who face murder charges. Photograph: Public Domain
Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.
Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.
In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army's criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to "toss a grenade at someone and kill them".
One soldier said he believed Gibbs was "feeling out the platoon".
Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a "kill team". While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. According to the charge sheet, the first target was Gul Mudin, who was killed "by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle", when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January.
Morlock and another soldier, Andrew Holmes, were on guard at the edge of a poppy field when Mudin emerged and stopped on the other side of a wall from the soldiers. Gibbs allegedly handed Morlock a grenade who armed it and dropped it over the wall next to the Afghan and dived for cover. Holmes, 19, then allegedly fired over the wall.
Later in the day, Morlock is alleged to have told Holmes that the killing was for fun and threatened him if he told anyone.
The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.
The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.
Five soldiers – Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield – are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.
The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.
The soldier, who was straight out of basic training and has not been named, said he witnessed the smoking of hashish and drinking of smuggled alcohol but initially did not report it out of loyalty to his comrades. But when he returned from an assignment at an army headquarters and discovered soldiers using the shipping container in which he was billeted to smoke hashish he reported it.
Two days later members of his platoon, including Gibbs and Morlock, accused him of "snitching", gave him a beating and told him to keep his mouth shut. The soldier reported the beating and threats to his officers and then told investigators what he knew of the "kill team".
Following the arrest of the original five accused in June, seven other soldiers were charged last month with attempting to cover up the killings and violent assault on the soldier who reported the smoking of hashish. The charges will be considered by a military grand jury later this month which will decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial. Army investigators say Morlock has admitted his involvement in the killings and given details about the role of others including Gibbs. But his lawyer, Michael Waddington, is seeking to have that confession suppressed because he says his client was interviewed while under the influence of prescription drugs taken for battlefield injuries and that he was also suffering from traumatic brain injury.
"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 told the Seattle Times.
Ok, you know what, this is just getting to the point to where this board is so far left it isnt even funny anymore. Everyone here seems to be in the tank for Obama, and nobody can seem to find a way to balance their opinion. You want to raise an issue about the CURRENT administration and somehow the discussion goes to George Bush as if he is still President.
Somehow, I do not think you have ever had a true animal instinct of survival forced out of you. Now, this story IS rather disturbing and I do not question the morality of it. Your subject title though reveals your deeper thoughts.
"US soldiers kill for sport"
Great title! As if U.S. soldiers were supposed to fly rainbow kites and sing Bob Marley songs while cross stitching quilts of the doors.
Lets make sure not to pay attention to beheadings, open threats, torture chambers, and holy war. My goodness how weak is this country going to become. F this.
-------------------- It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so. Posts: 6946 | Registered: Apr 2004
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This guy in article below was/is interesting.
Not sure how true everything is, between the article and the link.
I remember following this a ways back.
AFGHANISTAN: 'Luxury' Cell in Jail for Convicted Bounty Hunter
Convicted of illegal bounty-hunting in Afghanistan, ex-US soldier Jonathan ‘Jack’ Idema and his two American co-defendants live in relative luxury. Their apartment-style suite is complete with satellite TV, Persian carpets, private bathroom and kitchen and rumours are now circulating that they will be freed in a deal between Washington and the Afghan government.
by Colin Freeman, The Scotsman November 14th, 2004
KABUL - For a man whose life already resembles an airport spy thriller it was shaping up to be the most frightening chapter yet.
Convicted of illegal bounty-hunting in Afghanistan, flamboyant ex-US soldier Jonathan ‘Jack’ Idema faced his toughest-ever mission after being sentenced to 10 years in the country’s grimmest jail.
Even for the former Green Beret, arrested in July for running his own private jail, the prospect of a decade in Pol-i-Charki, a filthy Soviet-era fortress, was likely to put his skills of survival to the test.
But as with all good thriller plots, there has now been an unexpected twist. To the astonishment of other prisoners, Idema and his two American co-defendants have been given their own private set of rooms where they live in relative luxury.
Behind Pol-i-Charki’s forbidding bullet-scarred and bomb-blackened walls, which bristle with machine-guns, their apartment-style suite is complete with satellite TV, Persian carpets, private bathroom and kitchen.
Ready-meals, chocolate and other snacks are brought in from shops supplying Westerners in Kabul, while the three have exercise periods in private to avoid attacks from al-Qaeda-linked inmates.
Idema’s escape from what might otherwise have been a decade-long Midnight Express ordeal is just the latest turn in his bizarre and controversial exploits in Afghanistan.
The 48-year-old New Yorker was arrested amid worldwide publicity in July after police raided a compound in Kabul and found eight Afghan men who said they had been tortured by his private security outfit.
The case caused huge embarrassment for the US government when Idema, who joined the Green Berets after watching a John Wayne film, then claimed he was on a clandestine Pentagon-approved mission to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists and Osama bin Laden.
Sentenced alongside him to 10 years and eight years respectively were Brent Bennett, a fellow ex-soldier from California, and Edward Caraballo, from New York, an award-winning film maker who claimed he was making a documentary.
Following a spell on the jail’s main wing, all three were moved into segregated accommodation some weeks ago after an inmate threatened to attack Caraballo.
Yet comfortable or not, the real debate now is just how much longer the trio’s confinement will last.
After a highly publicised and chaotic trial, in which Idema claims he was prevented from conducting a proper defence, an appeal on his conviction is due at the end of this month.
While a jailbreak might be more Idema’s style, rumours are now circulating that all three will be freed in a deal between Washington and the Afghan government.
"This was apparently agreed between Washington and Afghanistan before the trial went ahead," said one insider. "The idea was that he would at least do a bit of time to show that justice had been done, but would then be let out on appeal shortly afterwards to bring the thing to a close."
Whatever the outcome, the appeal will once again focus attention on what Idema, a macho figure with his ever-present sunglasses, Afghan headscarf and sidearms, was doing in Afghanistan in the first place.
Was he simply an illicit fantasist running amok in a lawless land, as the prosecution alleged? Or, as he claims, was he a Pentagon-sanctioned "black ops" commando doing the US military’s dirty work for them?
From the outset, the Pentagon, still reeling from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq, insisted he had never worked for them in any capacity.
Choice revelations about his past - including his jail term for fraud, undistinguished military assessments from commanding officers, and his legendary temper - somewhat bolstered that theory.
Supporters, though, see him as a maverick but highly effective operator in the fight against al-Qaeda.
Driven by a mixture of American patriotism and greed, he hoped his methods would eventually net him the al-Qaeda leader and a $25m reward.
Either way, the truth had little chance of emerging at the trial, a shambolic affair highlighting the dire state of the Afghan judicial system. Idema’s lawyers were prevented from producing tape recordings of alleged talks with senior US military officials, or questioning witnesses who testified against them.
At this month’s appeal, though, lawyers for Idema and Caraballo are planning to protest in absentia.
Caraballo’s attorney Robert Fogelnest told Scotland on Sunday: "An appeal has been filed, but from my previous experience with the trial I have no belief that the Afghan system is capable of dealing with the issues. This whole issue is a political situation, and will be resolved politically."
If a political deal is under way, neither Fogelnest, nor Idema’s lawyer John Tiffany, claim to be aware of it.
Both have been calling for a full Congressional inquiry into the whole issue of private soldiering in Afghanistan and what US officials knew about it.
In the meantime, says Fogelnest, the three deserve all the privileges they can get. "When they first went there they were in conditions that weren’t fit for an animal, let alone a human being.
"Everybody is talking about them getting good treatment, but the bottom line is that they are still in Pol-i-Charki prison. If their condition has improved, then God bless."
He now believes their release will only come through appeals to newly elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is currently picking his Cabinet after sweeping to power last month.
Whether a deal will indeed go ahead only time will tell. Only one thing is certain - if the next chapter in Idema’s life is anything like the last few, it would never be wise to rule out the unexpected.