U.S. Soldiers Kill Afghan Civilians for Sport, Collect Fingers as ‘Trophies’

Othman Mekhloufi | @othmanmekhloufi

In 2010, twelve U.S. soldiers were accused of deliberately killing Afghan civilians for sport and collecting their fingers as trophies. They, along with a Staff Sergeant, composed a secret “kill team”. The soldiers allegedly killed the civilians at random by blowing them up and/or shooting at them. These attacks occurred various times throughout the year, The Guardian reported.

The soldiers were members of the Stryker infantry brigade based in the Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

Five of the twelve soldiers were charged with murdering three Afghan men. The seven others face accusations of covering up murders and assaulting a recruit who exposed their various wrongdoings.

How the Incidents Came to Be

Notions of killing Afghan civilians for sport arose after Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, 25, appeared at forward operating base Ramrod in November of 2009, according to legal documents and investigators. Soldiers reportedly stated to the Army’s criminal investigation command that Staff Sergeant Gibbs boasted about wrongdoings that he got away with while serving in Iraq. He supposedly said how easy it would be to “toss a grenade at someone and kill them”.

Gibbs, according to investigators, plotted to create a “kill team” with other members of the Stryker infantry brigade along with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, aged 22.

The “kill team” slaughtered at least three Afghan civilians while on patrol between January and May of 2010.

The Afghan Civilian Killings

A charge sheet shows that when entering the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January of 2010, Gul Mudin was the “kill team’s” first target. The group killed him with a grenade and several gunshots. Two soldiers, Jeremy Morlock and Andrew Holmes, 19, were guarding the edge of a poppy field in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. When Mudin approached where the soldiers were, Gibbs reportedly handed Morlock a grenade. He then armed it, dropped it over the wall next to Mudin, and dove for cover. Holmes then allegedly fired his rifle over the wall.

Later in the day, Morlock allegedly told Holmes that the murder of Mudin was for solely for ‘fun’. He also threatened him to not tell anyone.

The second killing occurred in February of 2010; Gibbs shot civilian Marach Agha to death. He then placed an AK-47 next to Agha’s body in order to justify the killing. The third killing happened in May when the group shot Mullah Adadhdad and attacked him with a grenade.

Reportedly, from the Army Times, at least one of the soldiers implicated in the killings collected the fingers of their victims as souvenirs. Some of the soldiers even posed for photographs with the bodies of those they killed for ‘fun’.

Five soldiers, Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon, and Adam Winfield received charges for murder and aggravated assault. All of the twelve soldiers involved have denied the charges and face the death penalty or life in prison if a court finds them guilty.

Uncovering the Killings

In May 2010, the army started investigating an assault on an unnamed soldier who told his superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish and drinking smuggled alcohol. The Army Times reported that members sometimes stole hashish from civilians and smoked it often. Sources later determined that this soldier was Private First Class, Justin Stoner.

Stoner, a new recruit, witnessed his fellow soldiers smoking hashish and drinking smuggled alcohol. He did not report on the wrongdoings out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers. However, after understanding that the soldiers were about to use a shipping container that he was quartered in to smoke and drink, he reported them to his superiors.

Two days later, members of the platoon and the “kill team” accused Stoner of “snitching”. They then assaulted him and told him to “keep his mouth shut.” He then reported the assault and threats to his superiors and informed investigators all he knew of the “kill team”.

The Trial

The five previously listed soldiers were arrested in June for the killings. The seven other soldiers were charged that August with attempting to cover up aggravated assault and murder. In late September 2010, a military grand jury considered the charges. According to army investigators, Morlock admitted to his involvement in the killings and gave details about the roles of the other members involved.

Ultimately, 11 of the 12 soldiers were convicted of crimes. Gibbs received three counts of premeditated murder and a sentence of life in prison. Morlock avoided a life sentence by testifying, receiving 24 years. Holmes pleaded guilty to murder without premeditation for seven years in prison. Michael Wagnon alone avoided conviction; courts suddenly dropped his charges in the name of “justice”. Stoner also did not receive any charges.

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