By Mike Kolhoff
The court martial of members of a US Army “kill team” began on Tuesday, November 10. The twelve soldiers are on trial for murdering Afghani civilians in the province of Kandahar between January and May. They collected body parts as trophies and took photos with their victims’ bodies. All the soldiers claim innocence, and five could face the death penalty if convicted.
According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at the forward operating base in Kandahar 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”. This is only the latest in a long list of war crimes committed during the “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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.
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.
Army investigators say one of the accused, Jeremy 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.
Below is a partial list of other atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan:
Khost Province, Ali Daya, April 2009: U.S. forces were positioned on the rooftop opposite the home of Brigadier Artillery officer Awal Khan. In a night raid, U.S. forces burst into Awal Khan’s home. Awal Khan was away from home. His family members ran to the rooftop, believing that robbers had entered the home. When they emerged on their rooftop, U.S. forces on the opposite roof opened fire, killing Awal Khan’s wife, his brother, his 17 year-old daughter Nadia, and his fifteen year-old son, Aimal and his infant son, born just a week earlier.
Kunar Province, December 26, 2009: In a night raid, U.S. forces, claiming to attack a bomb-making factory, attacked a house where eight youth, aged 11-18, were sleeping. They pulled the youngsters out of their beds, handcuffed them, and executed them. Villagers said that seven of those killed were students and one was a neighboring shepherd.
Helmand Province, February 2010: During this month, U.S./NATO forces launched a military offensive against three hamlets in the Marja district. Researcher Prof. Marc Herold presents a detailed summary and analysis of Afghan civilians killed directly by U.S/NATO forces during this particular month.
Paktika Province, February 12, 2010: In a night raid, U.S. forces attacked a home where 25 people, 3 of them musicians, had gathered for a naming celebration. A newborn was being named that night. One of the musicians went outside to relieve himself. A flashlight shone in his face. Panicked, he ran inside and announced that the Taliban were outside. A police commander, Dawoud, the father of the newborn, ran outside with his weapon. U.S. forces opened fire, killing Officer Dawoud, a pregnant mother, an eighteen year old, Gulaila, and two others.
Convoy en route to Kandehar, February 21, 2010: .S. aerial forces attacked a three-car convoy traveling to a market in Kandehar. The convoy had planned on continuing to Kabul so that some of the passengers could get medical treatment. At least three dozen people were passengers in the three cars. The front car was an SUV type vehicle, and the last was a Land Cruiser. When the first car was hit by U.S. air fire, women in the second car jumped out and waved their scarves to indicate that they were civilians. U.S. helicopters continued to fire rockets and machine guns, killing 21 people and wounding 13.
Khost Province, April 20, 2010: A NATO military convoy attacked a car approaching a checkpoint, claiming that the car sped up after being warned to stop. Four young men were killed. According to the New York Times, “The shooting Monday night in Khost province sparked an immediate outcry from the victims’ family, who insisted that all four were civilians driving home from a volleyball game. ‘The youngest boy was just 13,’said Rahmatullah Mansour, whose two sons and two nephews were killed in the shooting. Mansour said that the victims in Monday’s shooting were his sons Faizullah, 13, and Nasratullah, 17; and nephews Maiwand and Amirullah, both 18. He said all were students except Amirullah, who was a police officer.”
The most revealing factor in all of these atrocities has been the collusion of the corporate media in keeping this information from the public, maintaining a virtual blackout on anything involving wrongdoing by U.S. forces. Regarding the initial arrest of the “kill team” members, none of the leading U.S. daily newspapers (the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times) carried any independent report, with the Post publishing only a brief AP wire service account, and the other three publishing nothing. Nor was there any reference to the devastating Army admission in the evening news broadcasts of NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox. The only national network coverage came on CNN, which broadcast a report by Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence, beginning with this apt summary: “The charges against 12 American soldiers sound like crimes terrorists would be accused of: murdering civilians, chopping off body parts to keep as trophies, and beating those who’d speak up against them.”
Seattle Times, August 14, 2010: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012712859_civiliandeaths25m.html
The Army Times, August 27, 2010: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/08/ap-plot-to-kill-afghans-082510/
The Guardian (UK), September 9, 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/09/us-soldiers-afghan-civilians-fingers
Wired, September 27, 2010: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/09/first-hearing-in-armys-afghanistan-kill-team-begins/
Cable News Network, September 30, 2010: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-497323
The Washington Post, November 9 2010: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkpoint-washington/2010/11/hearing_begins_in_stryker_kill.html
UPI.com, November 10, 2010: The Washington Post, November 9 2010: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkpoint-ashington/2010/11/hearing_begins_in_stryker_kill.html