Five soldiers charged with murder, seven with lesser crimes
Another Abu Ghraib? (MSNBC, March 21, 2011) – Court martial proceedings are about to get under way and the U.S. Army is apologizing after a German newspaper published pictures of U.S. soldiers posing with the dead bodies of Afghan civilians. NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff discusses. (02:42)
The Associated Press via MSNBC.com
March 21, 2011
Graphic photos showing U.S. troops posing with dead Afghans were published by a German news organization Monday, with one showing a soldier smiling as he held a bloodied and partially clothed corpse.
The photos published by Der Spiegel were among several seized by Army investigators looking into the deaths of three unarmed Afghans last year. Five soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the case. …
Editions with the photos were on newsstands Monday. Der Spiegel is not making them available to other news organizations. …
This image shows the body of Gul Mudin, the son of a farmer, who was killed on Jan. 15, 2010. Der Spiegel published three photos out of the some 4,000 images and videos it has seen. The U.S. Army has apologized for the behavior of the soldiers involved in the “kill team.” (Photo credit: Der Spiegel; photo not part of AP/MSNBC report)
The Der Speigel investigation unearthed about 4,000 pictures and videos by the accused, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.
“Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army,” the Army said in a statement released by Col. Thomas Collins. “We apologize for the distress these photos cause.”
One of the published photographs shows a key figure in the investigation, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by the hair. Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Morlock was charged with killing on Jan. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province. …
Another photo shows Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, holding the head of the same corpse. …
A third photo depicts two apparently dead men propped against a small pillar. Der Spiegel said the photo was seized from a member of the platoon, but did not involve the deaths being investigated as war crimes. Soldiers have told investigators that such photos of dead bodies were passed around like trading cards on thumb drives and other digital storage devices.
The killings at issue occurred during patrols in January, February and May 2010. After the first death, one member of the platoon, Spc. Adam Winfield, sent Facebook messages to his parents, telling them his colleagues had slaughtered one civilian, were planning to kill more and warned him to keep quiet about it.
His father notified a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord, but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit separately reported the deaths. Winfield is accused of participating in the final killing.
Morlock has given extensive statements claiming the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont.; Gibbs maintains the killings were legitimate.
Morlock told investigators he threw a grenade and Holmes shot Mudin without cause; Holmes says that he fired when Morlock told him to, believing that Morlock had perceived a legitimate threat.
Morlock’s court martial was scheduled for Wednesday. He has agreed to plead guilty to murder, conspiracy and other charges and to testify against his co-defendants in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.
In addition to the five soldiers charged in the deaths, seven soldiers in the platoon were charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.
U.S. Army apologizes for ‘repugnant’ photos (NBC Nightly News, March 21, 2011) – Photos showing American soldiers in Afghanistan smiling over the dead bodies of Afghan civilians were released in the German magazine Der Spiegel on Monday. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:39)
Cpl. Jeremy Morlock (Photo credit: U.S. Army via AP)
By Robin Hindery
March 23, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington — A U.S. soldier was sentenced to 24 years in prison Wednesday after saying “the plan was to kill people” in a conspiracy with four fellow soldiers to kill unarmed Afghan civilians.
Military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said he intended to sentence Spc. Jeremy Morlock to life in prison with possibility of parole but was bound by the plea deal. Morlock will receive 352 days off of his sentence for time served.
Morlock, the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to be court-martialed in the case, will receive 352 days off of his sentence for time served and could be eligible for parole in about seven years, said his lead attorney, Frank Spinner. He will be dishonorably discharged as part of his sentence.
The 22-year-old Morlock is a key figure in a war crimes probe that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the war in Afghanistan. Army investigators accused him of taking a lead role in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010.
His sentencing Wednesday came hours after he pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use at his court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.
Under his plea deal, he has agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
Asked by the judge whether the plan was to shoot at people to scare them, or to shoot to kill, Morlock replied, “The plan was to kill people.” …
Morlock told the judge that he and the other soldiers first began plotting to murder unarmed Afghans in late 2009, several weeks before the first killing took place. To make the killings appear justified, the soldiers planned to plant weapons near the bodies of the victims, he said.
Army prosecutor Capt. Andre Leblanc characterized the crimes as acts of “unspeakable cruelty” by “a few extraordinarily misguided men.”
“We don’t do this. This is not how we’re trained. This is not the Army,” Leblanc said during his closing statement Wednesday. …
Behind the American ‘Kill Team’ in Afghanistan (Mark Boal, Rolling Stone magazine, March 27, 2011) — Early last year, after six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji. Among the men of Bravo Company, the notion of killing an Afghan civilian had been the subject of countless conversations, during lunchtime chats and late-night bull sessions. For weeks, they had weighed the ethics of bagging “savages” and debated the probability of getting caught. Some of them agonized over the idea; others were gung-ho from the start. But not long after the New Year, as winter descended on the arid plains of Kandahar Province, they agreed to stop talking and actually pull the trigger. … Full story
A sign – handwritten on cardboard fashioned from a discarded box of rations – hangs around the dead men’s necks. It reads: TALIBAN ARE DEAD. According to a source in Bravo Company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the men were killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal. “Those were some innocent farmers that got killed,” the source says. “Their standard operating procedure after killing dudes was to drag them up to the side of the highway.” (Photo from “The Kill Team photos: More war crime images the Pentagon doesn’t want you to see.” Rolling Stone, March 27, 2011)
Related reports on this site
Soldiers Posed With Body Parts of Afghan Suicide Bombers (April 19, 2012)
Setback for U.S. in Afghan War (Jan. 13, 2012)
Afghan Killings, Body Parts at Center of War Crimes Inquiry
(Sept. 25, 2010)
Tapes describe U.S. troops killing for sport (NBC Nightly News, Sept. 28, 2010) – An interrogation video provided chilling details about how a group of American soldiers allegedly murdered Afghan civilians. NBC’s Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports. (02:27)
Angry Protest After U.S. Raid (April 29, 2010)
Afghans burn tires during a protest in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, on Thursday, April 29, 2010.
(Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)
‘Making Enemies’ in Afghanistan (April 12, 2010)
Video: ‘Death to America’ chants
U.S. bus attack angers Afghans (NBC Nightly News, April 12, 2010) – U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Monday opened fire on a bus carrying civilians, killing at least five and inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region just as a major new offensive is about to get underway. (02:12)
“Death to America” (Jan. 7, 2010)
Thousands of Afghans protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 after a blast killed four Afghan children, a policeman and at least three U.S. troops. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)
“Death to Obama” (Dec. 31, 2009)
Protesters chant anti-American slogans and burn an effigy of President Barack Obama in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)
Afghan Support for U.S. Plummets (Feb. 10, 2009)
A crowd of Afghan protesters destroy a car during clashes with police following Friday prayers in Kabul on July 30, 2010. Rioting erupted when scores of Afghan men set fire to two U.S. embassy vehicles after one collided with a civilian car killing a number of occupants, officials and witnesses said. (Photo credit: Yuri Cortez / AFP – Getty Images)
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — March 21, 2010
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. (Photo credit: Pool / Reuters)
One year ago today, I reported that U.S. military planners had little doubt that an Israeli air campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities would provoke Iranian retaliation against Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers allied with the United States; American efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which border Iran, would come under threat — and there would be no way that any U.S. administration, after so many decades pledging undying support for Israel, could make a convincing claim in Muslim eyes that it was not complicit in the attack.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — March 21, 2009
Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn an American flag during an anti-U.S. demonstration Friday, March 20, 2009 in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad marking the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)
Two years ago today, on March 21, 2009, I reported that American flags were set on fire to chants of “No, no for occupation” as followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marked the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, which had already cost hundreds of billions of dollars — with an ultimate price tag in the trillions — dwarfing the original Bush administration estimate of $2.4 billion.
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