The goal was simple and sick: U.S. soldiers wanted to kill an Afghan civilian and get away with it.
In December, members of a unit (3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment) began concocting the idea of putting together a "kill team" to murder an Afghan civilian and get away with it by creating a ruse that they were under attack. When Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, described as the ringleader, began his second tour in Afghanistan, he bragged that it had been easy for him to get away with "stuff" (a.k.a. murder) when he served in Iraq in 2004.
On January 15, 2010, in Kandahar province, a solitary Afghan villager named Gul Mudin began walking toward some soldiers in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. The "kill team" activated the plan. As Mudin approached, Cpl. Jeremy N. Morlock tossed a fragmentary grenade on the ground to create the illusion that they were under attack. Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes saw the grenade and fired at Mudin. The grenade exploded, prompting the others to open fire on the villager, killing him.
On February 22, 2010, again in Kandahar province, Afghan civilian Marach Agha was killed by rifle fire near where the 3rd Platoon was stationed. Gibbs, Morlock and Spec. Michael S. Wagnon II are charged with the murder. Wagnon (who, like Gibbs, was on his second tour in Afghanistan and also served in Iraq) was additionally charged with taking "a skull from an Afghan person's corpse" as a souvenir, but it's unclear whether it is Agha's head.
Sometime in March, Gibbs, Wagnon, Staff Sgt. Robert G. Stevens, Sgt. Darren N. Jones and Pfc. Ashton A. Moore opened fire on three Afghan men, according to charging documents. Few details are provided.
On May 2, 2010, Gibbs, Morlock and Adam Winfield - whose father tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the disturbing first murder - are accused of tossing a grenade and fatally shooting an Afghan cleric, Mullah Adahdad.
If this macabre behavior was not bad enough, members of the platoon also have been charged with dismembering and taking trophy photos of corpses, as well as hoarding various human bones.
And the whistleblowers in all this? There are actually at least two. After the first murder, Winfield confided in his father, a former Marine. Winfield's father, with his son's approval, called the Army inspector general's 24-hour hotline, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a sergeant at his son's base, the Army's criminal investigation division, and the Fort Lewis command center--all to no avail. After word leaked that one soldier (presumably Winfield) had spoken to military police, several platoon members retaliated. They confronted the informant and beat him severely - punching, kicking and choking him, then dragging him across the ground. As a last warning, Gibbs menacingly waved finger bones he had collected from Afghan corpses.
These slayings are arguably worse than the slaughter depicted in the Wikileaks video, which appears to be an isolated incident of rogue soldiers killing unarmed Iraqi civilians and high-fiving each other as if it were a video game. (Not that there's a competition over who carries the American Express gold card for war crimes.) These serial killings were premeditated, done for sport, and occurred on at least three occasions.
Instead of psychoanalyzing the motives of the private who blew the whistle, as happened with Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, maybe this time we can focus on the barbarity of the war crimes committed and the retaliation against the whistleblower soldier who brought it to light.
If you're interested in finding out more about the Manning/Wikileaks case, here's a five-minute interview with me on the subject:
Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization. This post originally appeared in her Daily Kos column.
Today's Washington Post has a piece examining the potential mental health problems of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking the "Collateral Murder" video to Wikileaks.
Whatever the reality of Mr. Manning's mental health, or any whistleblower, it should not diminish the validity of the disclosures. Our country has studiously avoided having any meaningful conversation about why the soldiers in a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunned down unarmed Iraquis, including children, while high-fiving each other as if they were playing "Call of Duty." Or, why the Army found no wrongdoing in this incident and tried to bury it. Manning's mental health gives us no insight there.
With the Obama administration cracking down on whistleblowers more than any past President, we must remember a whistleblowers' mental health does not reduce the significance of their disclosures.
I've chronicled the Obama administration's campaign against whistleblowers on Kos, including the latest prosecution of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim and:
While the Washington Post says, “Judges should not be in the business of second-guessing or micromanaging the executive's battlefield decisions.”
I submit that the Washington Post should not be in the business of second-guessing judicial decisions.
The Post implies there are other avenues available to hold high-level officials accountable, and the plaintiffs “should have availed themselves of processes within the military justice system to ferret out and punish miscreants.”
Prosecuting the Charles Graner's and Lynndie England’s of the torture universe is a band-aid on a bullet wound. The real responsibility lies at the top of the heap with the lawyers and officials who conceived the policies, none of whom have been held accountable for the use of coercive interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture).
While it's not clear from the editorial, the American citizen plaintiffs were not taken captive, blindfolded, strip-searched, held incommunicado almost entirely in solitary confinement often with blaring music, denied food and water, and subjected to sensory deprivation and harsh interrogation tactics for their own protection. They were taken captive because the powers that be feared the plaintiffs' potential whistleblowing.
The plaintiffs' kidnapping had nothing had nothing to do with the battlefield. They were kidnapped in 2006, three years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They were held at Camp Cropper, not in some temporary battlefield tent.
Today's Washington Post has an article on "TechExpo Top Secret," an intelligence community job fair. The "meal ticket" to getting a job with a company doing intelligence work for the U.S. or under U.S. government contracts: a top-secret security clearance.
Part of what makes this such an exercise in absurdity is that, in the ever-expanding top-secret world created to respond to 9/11, approximately 854,000 people -- 1.5 times as many people live in Washington, D.C. -- hold top-secret security clearances.
So while unemployment surges and the housing market tanks around the rest of the country, the fat secrecy industry of the Intelligence Industrial Complex has kept D.C. and the surrounding regions afloat.
In news regarding automaker Toyota’s continuing problems with “unintended acceleration” – a sudden increase in speed that may be linked to several accidents and deaths since 2001 – preliminary findings from federal officials seem to support the company’s claims that problems lie not in faulty electronics, but rather in other issues such as sticking pedals, floor mat entrapment, and driver error.
Government regulators are investigating this issue using data collected from Toyota’s ‘black box’ recorders – devices installed in vehicles that record data such as velocity and acceleration. Of course, keep in mind that federal regulators are reviewing the accuracy of Toyota’s electronic system with an electronic device made by… Toyota? On this note, a handful of safety consultants are asking similar questions, such as: Is the black box device a scientifically validated instrument?
I have an article today in The National Law Journal reviewing what would otherwise be a trifling book by a Bush-era neocon . . . but for the fact that President Obama is following its recommendation to prosecute whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. It's bad enough that Obama's Justice Department is on its way to setting a record for leak prosecutions, but the fact that they are doing so under the Espionage Act--which is meant to prosecute spies not whistleblowers--is especially pernicious.
Real lives are at stake. Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA official who blew the whistle on an astronomically expensive and unconstitutional secret surveillance program, is facing 35 years in jail.
Gabriel Schoenfeld's book, Necessary Secrets, identifies a problem--the publication of true facts that are secret--but he never plumbs the deeper and more salient question:
In the latest turn in the WikiLeaks saga, the Pentagon is now “demanding” that the organizationtake down the trove of documents it posted related to the Afghan War, so that the website might redeem itself to “do the right thing.”
The “right thing?” Let’s recap for a sec.
Two weeks ago, WikiLeaks spawned a media sensation by posting privy, classified information about the Afghan War. It did this in conjunction with three of the most reputable media outlets in the world – The New York Times, The U.K. Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Granted, these outlets did not post anywhere close to a sizable percentage of the documents that WikiLeaks did. Therefore, each can’t vouch for all of the documents and its relative worth (we’ll get to that more in a minute). But each organization independently determined that the information contained therein had inherent value to the public interest. Each chose to write not a few simple stories, but dedicated multimedia presentations to their own releases. Their stories did not focus on WikiLeaks, but the information. To remind, some of the more interesting/shocking details of the online materials included:
Today's Washington Postreports that the Obama Administration is seeking further expansion of the FBI's power to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) and spinning the expansion as a "technical fix":
The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. . . . But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters.
The Obama administration's "look forward" mentality apparently also means ignoring the FBI's dismal track record when it comes to NSLs.
Last night, Wikileaks released more than 91,000 classified documents related to the Afghan war, which reveal in excruciating detail the uphill battle American troops have faced in battling the Taliban and in working with Pakistani "allies" who are also helping the Afghan insurgency.
Our country needs to have a serious conversation about supposedly classified documents (under classification laws, you can't classify something to hide its illegality or to avoid embarrassment) vs. the public's right to know.
Because the Obama administration can't catch Wikileaks.org (its founder is the target of a worldwide manhunt launched by the Pentagon), it is bound and determined to make an example out of Thomas Drake, James Risen and other whistleblowers who supposedly "leaked."