The Kill Team: making of a war crimePosted: March 28, 2011
Rory Fanning reports on the latest revelations of war crimes carried out by U.S. troops in Afghanistan–and why those at the top are escaping prosecution.
(WARNING – Images depict the reality and horror of war )
by Rory Fanning
Published: Mar. 28, 2011 – Socialist Worker
PHOTOS OF soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Army infantry division, posing with the dead and mutilated bodies of three Afghan civilians have shocked the world.
Released in the March 21 issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel, only three of the photos have so far been made public, despite the magazine’s claim to have more than 4,000 images and videos taken by the “kill team,” as the group called itself, in its possession.
In the pictures, soldiers pose gleefully with dead Afghan civilians who have been stripped naked and bound by the wrists, and who display signs of torture.
But while the U.S. military is attempting to claim the atrocities were carried out by a few “bad apples,” the responsibility for these crimes rests not only with the soldiers themselves, but with the architects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–all the way up to the president.
The U.S. military has reportedly had the images in question since May 2010. Officials at the Lewis McChord Criminal Investigation Division reportedly attempted to keep the photos under a tight lid, and Der Speigel has not said how it obtained the images.
Twelve soldiers from the “kill team” platoon were charged in connection with the murder of the unarmed civilians, and five face murder charges. All together, the soldiers were charged with 76 crimes.
Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock pled guilty to the three murders on March 23 in a military court outside of Tacoma, Wash. According to National Public Radio, “Morlock testified that he along with his fellow soldiers killed three Afghan men on three separate occasions in the Kandahar province. He said they planted weapons on or next to the victims’ corpses to make it look like the killings were legitimate.”
In one incident, the soldiers hid behind a wall and threw a grenade at a passerby. They shot the corpse with a rifle and planted a Russian grenade next to the body to make it look as if the dead man had initiated the attack. The “kill team” nicknamed the murder operation–which they are said to have planned for weeks –“Pineapple,” after the shape of the Russian grenade.
Morlock received a 24-year sentence, negotiated down from life, in exchange for testimony against four other soldiers facing murder charges. He will be eligible for parole in seven years.
In one photo, time stamped January 15, 2010, Morlock grins as he pulls on the hair of Gul Mudin, the son of an Afghan farmer, bringing the man’s lifeless face into frame. Morlock displays Mudin as if he were an animal killed on a safari.
The accused ringleader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Hobbs, said in a sworn statement that he cut off the fingers and removed teeth from one victim to keep as “mementos.” “The plan was to kill people.” Hobbs said in a hearing.
Only after Der Spiegel released the photographs, did the Army feel compelled to issue a statement that some in the media are calling an apology. “These [pictures] are repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States,” said U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Collins.
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THE U.S. Army is treating the “kill team” murders as isolated incidents inconsistent with the “values” of the military.
But it should be pointed out that the members of the “Kill Brigade” had undergone psychological tests, were trusted with weapons and were given hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of military training before they committed these crimes (in fact, nicknames such as the “Kill Brigade” are not uncommon amongst platoons in the military).
There was nothing “insane” about the12 soldiers from the Kill Brigade before they went to Afghanistan. Instead, it is the logic of the “war on terror” itself–a logic which drives soldiers to see any and all civilians as potential counter-insurgents and justifies occupations on a racist basis–that inevitably leads to such atrocities.
The history of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that these incidents are not isolated. Dozens of prisoners were tortured and at least two were murdered at Bagrham Air Base, located 50 miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, between 2002-2008.
In 2004, 11 Army soldiers were charged with the torture of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. That same year, a Marine was charged with the murder of an unarmed prisoner in Falluja.
In 2006, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family were murdered by a group of U.S. soldiers in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. In March of 2007, U.S. Marines shot and killed as many as 19 unarmed civilians as they fled the scene of a reported bomb attack in Haditha, Iraq.
Later that year, in September 2007, military contractors with Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square. Last January, Raymond Allen Davis, a CIA operative killed two “robbers”–a third was killed crossing the street as other CIA employees rushed to extract Davis from the scene–in Pakistan.
This is all in addition to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been massacred as a result of bombing raids, drone attacks and mortar assaults on villages and towns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Iraq. Estimates suggest that as many as 32,000 have been killed in Pakistan alone as a result of drone attacks.
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COMPOUNDING THESE war crimes is the fact that the U.S. military has failed to aggressively investigate and prosecute such incidents. According to documents uncovered by the muckraking Web site WikiLeaks, the U.S. has been criminally negligent in its investigation of war crimes. Additionally, high-ranking officials, who set out the policies that led to such atrocities, have never been brought to justice.
The [WikiLeaks] documents provide evidence of numerous war crimes and other severe U.S. breaches of the Geneva Convention ratified by Washington…The U.S. justice system has only opened investigations in fewer than 5 percent of all these cases. Only a handful of lower-ranking people were convicted and in most cases received short prison sentences. The military commanders and the people politically responsible for the crimes right up to President Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney were not called to task.
In other countries–such as Sudan for example–such a blatant failure of the national justice system would have led to the involvement of the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. has refused to join.
To date, the highest-ranking solder on trial for crimes committed by the “Kill Brigade” is a staff sergeant.
Meanwhile, we can only surmise the number of unreported incidents perpetrated against civilians given the lengths the U.S. has gone to suppress the criminal acts of its soldiers in the past. This includes not only civilian deaths, but also the killing of U.S. soldiers like former NFL player Pat Tillman–whose death in 2004 in Afghanistan as a result of friendly fire was covered up by military officials in order to avoid a scandal.
The military and government officials will attempt to go to any lengths to hide the truth about the brutality of their wars.
Today, after 10 years of an aimless and unending U.S. military crusade against the people of the Middle East, timid “apologies” for such atrocities issued by the military and administration officials carry no weight. Those at the top should be held responsible for these war crimes.
THE CENSORED IMAGES (Photos taken from Uruknet.info)
On January 15th, 2010, U.S. soldiers in Bravo Company stationed near Kandahar executed an unarmed Afghan boy named Gul Mudin in the village of La Mohammad Kalay. Reports by soldiers at the scene indicate that Mudin was about 15 years old. According to sworn statements, two soldiers – Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes – staged the killing to make it look like they had been under attack. Ordering the boy to stand still, they crouched behind a mud wall, tossed a grenade at him and opened fire from close range. This photograph shows Mudin’s body lying by the wall where he was killed.
Following the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, the soldiers cut off the dead boy’s clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Here they are shown scanning his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.
In a break with protocol, the soldiers also took photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. In the photos, Morlock grins and gives a thumbs-up sign as he poses with Mudin’s body. Note that the boy’s right pinky finger appears to have been severed. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reportedly used a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears to cut off the finger, which he presented to Holmes as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.
Holmes poses with Mudin’s body. According to a fellow soldier, Holmes took to carrying Mudin’s severed finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”
Prior to the murder of Mudin, in November 2009, the soldiers of Bravo Company were dispatched to recover the body of an insurgent who was killed by rockets from a helicopter gunship. As they collected the remains, which appear to be those shown here, one took out a hunting knife and stabbed the corpse. Staff Sgt. Gibbs, who had recently joined the platoon as a squad leader, began playing with a pair of scissors near the dead man’s hands. “I wonder if these can cut off a finger?” Gibbs asked.
A pistol found at the scene of the helicopter strike. Gibbs routinely collected such weapons and planted them on the bodies of unarmed civilians they killed, in order to frame their victim as enemy combatants. The presence of a “drop weapon” virtually guaranteed that a shooting would be considered a legitimate kill.
Cpl. Jeremy Morlock with the pistol found at the scene. Gibbs was reportedly disappointed that the pistol was turned into military authorities in accordance with proper protocol, preventing them from using it as a “drop weapon.”
Before the military found itself short of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Morlock was the kind of bad-news kid who the Army might have passed on. He grew up not far from Sarah Palin in Wasilla, Alaska; his sister hung out with Bristol, and Morlock played hockey against Track. Back in those days, it seemed like he was constantly in trouble: getting drunk and into fights, driving without a license, leaving the scene of a serious car accident.
Even after he joined the Army, Morlock continued to get into trouble. In 2009, a month before he deployed to Afghanistan, he was charged with disorderly conduct after burning his wife with a cigarette. After he arrived in Afghanistan, he did any drug he could get his hands on: opium, hash, Ambien, amitriptyline, flexeril, phenergan, codeine, trazodone.
Morlock posing with an Afghan child. The photos collected by soldiers included many shots of local children, often filed alongside images of bloody casualties. At one point, soldiers in 3rd Platoon talked about throwing candy out of a Stryker vehicle as they drove through a village and shooting the children who came running to pick up the sweets.
Another photo of Afghan children. According to one soldier, members of 3rd Platoon also talked about a scenario in which they “would throw candy out in front and in the rear of the Stryker; the Stryker would then run the children over.”
Staff Sgt. Gibbs in the back of a Stryker vehicle, a pair of scissors visible in the top pocket of his uniform. Gibbs allegedly used a pair of medic’s shears to cut off the finger of at least two Afghan civilians murdered by members of his platoon.
An unidentified soldier next to the wreckage of an Afghan National Police truck that had been blown up near the base’s gate. Inside the truck, Staff Sgt. Gibbs found a working AK-47 with a folding butt stock and two magazines. According to witnesses, Gibbs placed the AK-47 and the magazines in a metal box in one of the Strykers and later used them as “drop weapons” to frame two unarmed civilians the platoon killed as enemy combatants.
In the process of suppressing the photographs, the Army may also have been trying to keep secret evidence that the killings of civilians went beyond a few men in 3rd Platoon. In this image, the bodies of two Afghan men have been tied together, their hands bound, and placed alongside a road.
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.”
The collection of photos includes several dozen images of unidentified casualties, including this one of a severed head. In many of the photos it is unclear whether the bodies are civilians or Taliban. It is possible that the unidentified deaths are unrelated to 3rd Platoon, and involved no illegal acts by U.S. soldiers. But taking such photos, let alone sharing them with others, is a clear violation of Army standards.