Published on
The Guardian/UK

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

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.

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".

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.

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.

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.

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