Murdered Afghan civilians’ fingers as soldiers’ trophies

This video from the USA is called Rethink Afghanistan War (Part 4): Civilian Casualties.

Spc. Adam Winfield (left), Spc. Michael Wagnon (center), and Spc. Jeremy Morlock (right)

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

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

* Thursday 9 September 2010

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.

See also here. And here.

US soldiers killed Afghan civilians and kept fingers, skull as trophies: here. And here.

If a military court will find the suspects guilty of these crimes, then they will be punished.

However, horrible as the crimes are, they were not committed in isolation from the general “global war on terror”, as George W Bush used to call it. In a context where large parts of the United States political establishment vilify Muslims and other “others” … where there are connections between Christian religious fundamentalism and US armed forces … where even Afghan employees of the US occupation forces, who theoretically are supposed to be considered allies and exponents of the brave new pro-Washington Afghanistan are in practice considered to be somewhat less than human, having “separate but equal unequal” toilets at Kandahar military base … where US and other NATO armed forces often kill civilians as part of a “shoot first, think later” climate … in such circumstances, it will become more likely that some individuals, like the ones who stand accused now, will go just a few terrible steps further.

The Pat Tillman USO Center in Bagram, Afghanistan will host the international premiere of The Tillman Story, Amir Bar-Lev’s compelling documentary about the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman by ‘friendly fire’: here.

Britain: In an unprecedented Commons vote the government rubber-stamped continued war in Afghanistan even as bereaved military families published an open letter demanding Britain’s immediate withdrawal: here.

Poor sanitation, water shortages, climate change and environmental destruction – Afghanistan grimly illustrates the fate of many nations if we do not act now: here.

39 thoughts on “Murdered Afghan civilians’ fingers as soldiers’ trophies

  1. Army: Soldiers used grenades to kill Afghan civilians

    By KOMO Staff & News Services

    Story Published: Jun 16, 2010 at 12:19 PM PDT

    JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — Stryker Brigade soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord killed three Afghan civilians by throwing hand grenades and shooting them, according to charging papers.

    Two soldiers were charged earlier this month, on Tuesday night, prosecutors filed three additional premeditated murder charges against three other Stryker soldiers.

    Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, Specialist Michael Wagnon and Specialist Adam Winfield each charged Tuesday night with one count of premeditated murder, and each soldier is suspected in separate incidents, said Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tamara Parker.

    A fourth solider, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, was charged June 4 with three counts of premeditated murder and one count of assault. A fifth soldier, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, was charged in Kuwait on June 8 with three counts of premeditated murder and one count of assault. Gibbs is expected to arrive back at Joint Base within the next few days.

    The charges involve three separate events alleged to have occurred between January and May at or near Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan, Parker said.

    Army documents detail how prosecutors believe each soldier is involved:

    Morlock, Gibbs, and Holmes are accused of throwing a grenade at an Afghan civilian and fatally shooting him with a rifle sometime in January.

    On Feb. 22, prosecutors say Morlock, Gibbs, and Wagnon shot and killed a second Afghan civilian with a rifle. Wagnon is also accused of later trying to get another solider to erase evidence of the murders from a computer hard drive.

    Army prosecutors say a little more than two months later on May 2, Morlock and Gibbs once again used a grenade and a rifle to kill an Afghan civilian. Winfield is also accused of taking part in that murder.

    Morlock and Gibbs are also accused of an assault on May 5, but the Army has withheld the specific details of that incident.

    All five soldiers are assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team and were deployed to Afghanistan last July in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    When asked if there could be other soldiers involved, Parker said: “These are the five (soldiers) that are implicated by the evidence, but the investigation is continuing.”

    Gibbs, 25, is from Billings, Mont., and is an 8 year Army veteran. Holmes, 19, from Boise, Idaho entered the Army in Sept. 2008. Wagnon, 29, is from Las Vegas and a 7 year Army veteran. Winfield, 21, from Cape Coral, Fla entered the military in July of 2006.

    The maximum penalty for conviction for premeditated murder would be life in prison or the death penalty. Army prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.


  2. Posted on Wed, Sep. 08, 2010 07:54 PM

    Soldier’s father: Army was warned of murder plot

    Associated Press Writer

    The father of a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan says he tried nearly a half dozen times to pass an urgent message from his son to the Army: Troops in his unit had murdered an Afghan civilian, planned more killings and threatened him to keep quiet about it.

    By the time officials arrested suspects months later, two more Afghans were dead.

    And much to Christopher Winfield’s horror, his son Adam was among the five Fort Lewis-based soldiers charged in the killings.

    The elder Winfield told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that his son did not kill the unarmed man and would never have been in the situation if the Army had investigated the warnings he says he passed along to Fort Lewis.

    An Army spokeswoman at the base said she could not comment on whether they received such a tip or if so, whether it was acted on.

    But the new details about Winfield’s efforts to alert the Army and his son’s pleas raised questions about the Army’s handling of the case and its system for allowing soldiers to report misconduct by their colleagues.

    The soldiers have been accused of conspiracy and premeditated murder. The highest ranking is Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who, along with Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, are accused of taking part in all three killings.

    Pfc. Andrew Holmes is charged with murder in the first killing, and Spc. Michael Wagnon is charged in another. Both deny the charges.

    Winfield is charged with murder in the final killing, and his attorney, Eric Montalvo, insists he was ordered to shoot after Gibbs hit the civilian with a grenade. Winfield deliberately shot high and missed, he said.

    Gibbs has denied the charges. His attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, said his client maintains that the shootings were “appropriate engagements” and denies involvement in any conspiracy to kill civilians.

    The soldiers, all assigned to the 5th Stryker Brigade, deployed in July 2009 and were stationed at a base in Kandahar Province.

    The AP reviewed witness and defendant statements as well as documents filed with an Army magistrate for this report.

    Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont., arrived in the unit late last year and soon began discussing how easy it would be to kill civilians, some in the platoon told Army investigators. He and Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, 22, planned “scenarios” in which they could carry out such killings, they said.

    Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, gave investigators extensive statements describing the plot.

    In each of the killings, Morlock said, he and Gibbs planned and initiated the attack and enlisted one other soldier to participate.

    The first indication for Christopher Winfield and his wife, Emma, that something was amiss came Jan. 15, the day of the first killing.

    “I’m not sure what to do about something that happened out here but I need to be secretive about this,” their son wrote them in a Facebook message. The couple gave the AP copies of the Facebook messages, Internet chats and their phone records.

    Winfield, 22, of Cape Coral, Fla., didn’t immediately provide more details, and over the next month he had little contact with his parents. They said they checked constantly to see if he was online.

    On Feb. 14, he told his parents what happened in a lengthy Internet chat: Members of his unit on patrol had killed “some innocent guy about my age just farming.” He said he did not witness the killing.

    But, he wrote, those involved told him about it and urged him to “get one of my own.”

    He said that virtually everyone in the platoon was aware of what was going on, but no one seemed to object.

    “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 didn’t know whom to trust and feared for his safety if his comrades learned 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 his parents. “There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday.”

    In statements to investigators, at least three platoon members said Gibbs directly threatened Winfield. Morlock added that Gibbs devised “scenarios” for Winfield’s death, one of which involved Gibbs dropping heavy weights on him as he was working out.

    Gibbs accosted Winfield as he was on his way to speak with a chaplain and warned him to keep quiet, Montalvo said.

    Soldiers serving in a combat theater typically would report crimes up the chain of command, to military investigators or chaplains, to members of the Defense Department inspector general’s office, or even to another unit if their own commanders are involved.

    One soldier, Pfc. Justin A. Stoner, who reported hashish smoking in the unit, said he was beaten by several platoon members. Gibbs and Morlock then paid him a visit, with Gibbs rolling out on the floor a set of severed fingers, he told investigators.

    Morlock told him that “if I don’t want to end up like that guy … shut the hell up.”

    Winfield asked his parents to call an Army hotline because he didn’t want anyone to overhear him using the phone.

    His father, a Marine veteran, was shocked, and made five calls to military officials that day, his phone records show.

    He said he left a message on a Defense Department hotline and called four numbers at Fort Lewis. He said he spoke with an on-duty sergeant and left a message at an Army Criminal Investigations Division office before reaching the base’s command center.

    In that call, an official told him that if his son wasn’t willing to come forward while deployed, there was nothing the base could do, Winfield recalled in interviews with the AP and in a sworn statement to Army investigators.

    The official suggested the soldier keep his head down until his deployment ended and investigators could look into his claims, he said.

    The elder Winfield told AP he regrets not writing down the identities of those he spoke with. He said he did not give any of them Gibbs’ name, but did identify his son. He said one of his son’s sergeants had been involved in a civilian’s murder and was planning more.

    His son soon expressed concern about what would happen if Army officials stateside began making inquiries, and asked his dad to back off. The elder Winfield said he complied.

    A week later, the second killing occurred. On May 2, the third killing took place.

    The killings eventually came to light when the soldier who had reported the drug use told investigators that Morlock “had three prior kills that none of which I believe were actually justified.”

    Preliminary hearings in the case are expected to begin this fall.

    Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed from Washington, D.C.


  3. Soldier arrested in Fort Wainwright shooting

    The Associated Press

    Published: October 14th, 2010 12:43 PM
    Last Modified: October 14th, 2010 04:33 PM

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska – One soldier is under arrest and another soldier is hospitalized after a shooting at Fort Wainwright.

    Army officials say the soldier accused in the Tuesday night shooting is a member of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

    Officials have not released his name or the name of the victim, whose was listed Thursday in good condition with non-life threatening injuries.

    Officials say the Stryker soldier shot the other soldier in a parking lot near a barracks, using a .45-caliber gun.


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