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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Collateral Murder--The Sequel (and Gang Assault of the Whistleblower)

Jesselyn Radack, September 20, 2010

Yesterday's Washington Post had a chilling story that rivals the "Collateral Murder" video put out by Wikileaks: Members of U.S. Platoon in Afghanistan Accused of Killing Civilians for Sport. It's arguably worse than Collateral Murder because rather than "rogue" troops getting caught up in a homicidal frenzy, here the unprovoked, savage attacks were totally premeditated and repeated.

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