JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington - An investigator told how he found dismembered fingers near the quarters of an alleged rogue US army unit accused of killing Afghans for sport and taking trophies from the bodies.
The gruesome testimony came as a third US soldier faced a pre-trial hearing over the alleged killings -- after which the rogue soldiers allegedly posed for photos with their victims -- in southern Afghanistan earlier this year.
If proved in a full court martial, the crimes would be among the worst committed by US forces in Afghanistan, and could deal a blow to efforts to win over the support of ordinary Afghans in the war-torn country.
Private Andrew Holmes, one of five soldiers accused of going rogue, listened quietly as Special Agent Benjamin Stevenson described finding severed fingers near where members of the unit lived.
Army prosecutors allege Holmes participated in the execution of an Afghan the southern Kandahar province in January, kept a finger bone from an Afghan corpse and smoked hashish with some of the other killers.
On Monday, Stevenson, testifying by speakerphone, said he had a map provided by the army's star witness, Corporal Jeremy Morlock, showing where investigators could find the digits allegedly taken from Afghan civilians.
Using Morlock's map, Stevenson said he and another agent located a large, protective dirt barrier near the soldiers' residences in Forward Operating Base Ramrod.
On top of the barrier, they found a plastic bottle containing two fingers, wrapped in cloth.
"Right where we were told the fingers would be, there they were," Stevenson said. Another bone was found nearby.
Investigators also discovered a bone over a foot (30 cm) long, possibly a leg, in a house believed to be that of another soldier, Adam Kelly, who faces charges over covering up the alleged killings, but is not charged with murder.
Holmes's attorney Dan Conway pointed out that the bones were found near the housing unit of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of the rogue unit.
Speaking with reporters during a break, Conway said his client did once have a bone that a superior officer forced him to take and that Holmes got rid of it "as soon as practically possible."
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Specialist Ryan Mallet, an eye-witness to the January shooting leading to Holmes murder charge, testified that he was on a hill in a small village when he saw Morlock call a man over from a field.
Mallet looked away, but then heard Morlock yell: "Grenade, hes got a grenade. Holmes, shoot him."
Holmes fired several rounds, according to Mallet, after which the man was still standing. The defense contends that Holmes did not fire the fatal shots and is fighting with the army to release photos Conroy says will show that.
After the rounds were fired, a grenade exploded, Mallett said.
When the dust cleared, the Afghan man was on the ground, unmoving.
Another soldier shot him twice.
Mallet, who described Holmes as a friend, said that the odd thing about the shooting was that despite shouting a grenade warning, Morlock "never raised his rifle that I could see."
Conway told reporters that Holmes did not know that his team leader was staging a killing and that his team leader was using him as an unwitting participant in a cover story.
The soldiers participating in the alleged execution plots, allegedly orchestrated by Gibbs, were all members of the Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Division's Stryker brigade at Ramrod.
Morlock, the army's main witness against the accused killers including Holmes, is also charged with murdering Afghan civilians. He was the first to face a pre-trial hearing in September, and his case will now go to a full court martial.
Monday's proceeding is part of a series of pre-trial hearings to determine if the soldiers accused in the murders and the cover-up of the killings will face full courts-martial.
The Holmes pre-trial hearing is due to wrap up on Tuesday.