The Washington Post reports:
The U.S. soldiers hatched a plan as simple as it was savage: to randomly target and kill an Afghan civilian, and to get away with it.
For weeks, according to Army charging documents, rogue members of a platoon from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, floated the idea. Then, one day last winter, a solitary Afghan man approached them in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. The “kill team” activated the plan.
One soldier created a ruse that they were under attack, tossing a fragmentary grenade on the ground. Then others opened fire.
According to charging documents, the unprovoked, fatal attack on Jan. 15 was the start of a months-long shooting spree against Afghan civilians that resulted in some of the grisliest allegations against American soldiers since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones.
The subsequent investigation has raised accusations about whether the military ignored warnings that the out-of-control soldiers were committing atrocities. The father of one soldier said he repeatedly tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the first killing, only to be rebuffed.
Two more slayings would follow. Military documents allege that five members of the unit staged a total of three murders in Kandahar province between January and May. Seven other soldiers have been charged with crimes related to the case, including hashish use, attempts to impede the investigation and a retaliatory gang assault on a private who blew the whistle.
Army officials have not disclosed a motive for the killings and macabre behavior. Nor have they explained how the attacks could have persisted without attracting scrutiny. They declined to comment on the case beyond the charges that have been filed, citing the ongoing investigation.
But a review of military court documents and interviews with people familiar with the investigation suggest the killings were committed essentially for sport by soldiers who had a fondness for hashish and alcohol.
The accused soldiers, through attorneys and family members, deny wrongdoing. But the case has already been marked by a cycle of accusations and counter-accusations among the defendants as they seek to pin the blame on each other, according to documents and interviews.
The Army has scheduled pre-trial hearings in the case this fall at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, home of the Stryker brigade. (The unit was renamed the 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, when it returned from Afghanistan in July.) Military officials say privately that they worry the hearings will draw further attention to the case, with photos and other evidence prompting anger among the Afghan civilians whose support is critical to the fight against the Taliban.
Does the Washington Post share the military’s concern about the effects of publicity around this case? It has certainly taken the newspaper a long time to get around to covering this story.
The case was reported by the Seattle Times in early June.
A June 16 report said:
Premeditated murder, the crime that the soldiers are charged with, is the most serious of four murder charges that can be levied under the military code of justice, according to Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale University. It carries the death penalty.
In cases involving multiple soldiers, military prosecutors, like their civilian counterparts, may sometimes cut deals with some defendants to gain evidence against other defendants.
“The prosecutors’ door is likely to open, and they may have to make some wrenching decisions about whom to make a deal with to gain evidence,” Fidell said.
There are hints that the Washington Post itself may now be part of just such a prosecution process as indicated by the weight its report gives to the testimony of Spc. Adam Winfield, one of the accused soldiers.