Tes­ti­mony in Afghan slay­ings

A sergeant who ruled by fear com­pelled the killing of civil­ians, troops’ state­ments say.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Ni­cholas Ric­cardi re­port­ing from joint base lewis-mcchord, wash.

The first pub­lic hear­ing in­volv­ing charges that five sol­diers gunned down Afghan civil­ians for sport con­cluded Mon­day, with wit­nesses and lawyers de­scrib­ing wide­spread fear of the sergeant who has been de­scribed as the ring­leader of the slay­ings.

That sergeant is Calvin Gibbs. Though the hear­ing was held to de­ter­mine whether Spc. Jeremy Mor­lock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, will face a court-mar­tial on murder charges, the tes­ti­mony and court doc­u­ments fo­cused at­ten­tion on Gibbs.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Mor­lock was the right-hand man of Gibbs, who they say di­rected his troops on how to han­dle the killings. Pros­e­cu­tors said he and some of the sol­diers kept fin­gers and other body parts as sou­venirs and were pho­tographed pos­ing with Afghan corpses.

Army of­fi­cials have pre­vented those pho­tos from be­ing dis­trib­uted to civil­ian lawyers, fear­ing they could be more widely dis­sem­i­nated and in­flame Afghan pub­lic opin­ion.

Murder charges have been filed against Mor­lock, Gibbs and three other sol­diers. If con­victed, they could face the death penalty. All have de­nied the charges.

The 2nd Stryker Bri­gade, known as the 5th Stryker Bri­gade at the time of the killings, was posted to a tu­mul­tuous stretch of south-

Civil­ians,

ern Afghanistan when Gibbs came aboard in De­cem­ber 2009. In state­ments to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, sol­diers said the new sergeant pushed them to at­tack civil­ians.

“Ev­ery­body in the unit was threat­ened, from the be­gin­ning of this to the end, that if they were not on board, if they were a snitch …they’d get what’s com­ing to them,” said Michael Wadding­ton, Mor­lock’s lawyer. “Ev­ery­body in the pla­toon, as you see, is im­pli­cated in the crimes…. Many of those peo­ple were just along for the ride.”

Gibbs’ lawyer has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

In Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony Mon­day, Mor­lock and an­other sol­dier watched a civil­ian walk to­ward them on the other side of a low-ly­ing wall. Fol­low­ing di­rec­tions from Gibbs, Mor­lock dropped a grenade over the wall, and the other sol­dier opened fire. The man was killed.

Af­ter the in­ci­dent, an­other sol­dier in the unit, Spc. Adam Win­field, sent his fam­ily a fran­tic mes­sage for help via Face­book. In a later tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, he told them, “Some­one is get­ting away with murder,” his mother, Emma Win­field, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. Win­field said he was fear­ful of Gibbs and had been threat­ened against speak­ing out.

Win­field’s fa­ther, a for­mer Ma­rine, called the Army’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit to re­port the killing. But he has said pub­licly that he was re­buffed and told that his son’s best chance at sur­viv­ing was to stay quiet un­til he re­turned to the U.S.

Weeks later, ac­cord­ing to Mor­lock’s state­ment to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Gibbs gunned down a sec­ond Afghan civil­ian and tossed an AK-47 next to the corpse. He or­dered Mor­lock and an­other sol­dier to fire as well to make it ap­pear there had been a shootout.

“He said this was part of the plan to make this more con­crete and more be­liev­able and to let Staff Sgt. Gibbs know who was on board,” said Army Spe­cial Agent Shan­non B. Richey, who in­ter­viewed Mor­lock about the in­ci­dent.

In May, Gibbs’ unit ar­rived at a vil­lage sym­pa­thetic to the Tal­iban. Gibbs tossed a grenade at one civil­ian and told Mor­lock and Win­field to fire at the man, ac­cord­ing to state­ments from the two sol­diers read in court. The Afghan died. Mor­lock told the lieu­tenant on the scene that the man had tried to throw a grenade at the Amer­i­cans.

Days later, mem­bers of the pla­toon beat a sol­dier who they be­lieved was re­port­ing on them for wide­spread use of hashish, au­thor­i­ties said. Gibbs and Mor­lock al­legedly waved sev­ered fin­gers at the sol­dier to threaten him. Mil­i­tary po­lice alerted the Army’s crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit.

Shortly af­ter the beat­ing, Mor­lock was to be flown to Ger­many for med­i­cal treat­ment for brain in­juries, but Army in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­ter­cepted him at a base in Kan­da­har, Afghanistan. In­ves­ti­ga­tors tes­ti­fied that Mor­lock told them he wanted to talk but feared for his safety if Gibbs found out. Mor­lock even­tu­ally gave a lengthy state­ment and re­turned for fol­low-up in­ter­views, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

Win­field’s par­ents said it was out­ra­geous that their son, the sol­dier who tried to blow the whis­tle, faced murder charges. “I can’t com­pre­hend how he was charged with this when he was the only one who tried to do any­thing,” Emma Win­field said.

Seven other sol­diers face hashish charges. Of the 18 mil­i­tary wit­nesses listed in Mon­day’s hear­ing, 14 — in­clud­ing the lieu­tenant who was the pla­toon’s com­man­der — re­fused to tes­tify, cit­ing their 5th Amend­ment right against self-in­crim­i­na­tion.

Wadding­ton said his client, Mor­lock, ini­tially re­quested a lawyer but was re­buffed — a sug­ges­tion de­nied by Army in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He also ar­gued that Mor­lock’s state­ments to Army in­ves­ti­ga­tors should be dis­re­garded be­cause he was on nu­mer­ous pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions to treat brain in­juries. Army Spe­cial Agent An­der­son D. Wag­ner, tes­ti­fy­ing by phone from Afghanistan, said that Mor­lock ap­peared co­her­ent dur­ing the in­ter­views.

Wadding­ton also con­tended that Mor­lock did not di­rectly kill any­one, say­ing that in all three of the in­ci­dents the fa­tal act ap­peared to have been com­mit­ted by some­one else. “He did not cause the death of any of these in­di­vid­u­als,” Wadding­ton told re­porters out­side court.

A de­ci­sion by a mil­i­tary judge on whether to hold a court-mar­tial for Mor­lock is not ex­pected for weeks.

Wag­ner ac­knowl­edged that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had not ex­am­ined the bod­ies of the civil­ians and could not say who fired the fa­tal shot in each case. “If this was the United States, it’s a no­brainer, it’s easy,” Wag­ner said. But in Afghanistan, “to ex­hume a body would cause a lot of is­sues. Even if it’s for a good pur­pose, like we’re try­ing to de­ter­mine who killed your son or hus­band, for re­li­gious rea­sons it could cause an up­roar.”

Only if top com­man­ders de­cide the case mer­its the risk of un­earthing the bod­ies, Wag­ner said, would they be re­cov­ered.

JEREMY MOR­LOCK

He’s one of five sol­diers fac­ing murder charges.

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