Video released of soldiers confessing to killing civilians
TACOMA, Washington (AFP) – The US Army holds a first hearing Monday in a war crimes case against a group of soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport, mutilating corpses and plotting a cover-up.
Authorities say five of the 12 troops on trial opened fire on Afghan civilians in unprovoked assaults over several months in southern Kandahar province, with the rest accused of dismembering bodies and removing bones.
The case, before a military court south of Seattle, could have explosive ramifications for the war effort as US-led forces try to win over local Afghans and counter Taliban insurgents in the pivotal Kandahar battlefield.
Monday's hearing focuses on Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasila, Alaska, who faces charges of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghans killed between January and May this year.
Morlock is one of five soldiers charged with murder in the case, while seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation, using hashish and severely beating a comrade in retaliation for blowing the whistle.
In a video obtained by ABC News, Morlock explained to investigators that his sergeant picked out Afghans to be killed.
The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.
The military hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, and more hearings are expected in the coming weeks for the other defendants.
Morlock and several of the men also are charged with punching and kicking a fellow soldier to stifle an investigation into hashish use.
The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones were taken from the slain civilians.
The father of one of the accused, Specialist Adam Winfield, has told US media that his son warned him via Facebook that his unit had killed an Afghan civilian for no reason and was plotting to commit more murders.
Officials had told AFP in May that the whistleblower, whose identity has been kept secret, was badly battered, with one source saying he was "beaten within an inch of his life."
US officials acknowledge they are concerned about the fallout from the case, which threatens to undermine efforts by the American military to avoid civilian casualties and secure the confidence of wary Afghans.
The allegations have yet to be proven but are "serious nonetheless," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said earlier this month. Even if the accusations are found to be false, the case "is unhelpful," he added.
"The people in that area who are impacted by these alleged incidents will think differently of us as a result of that."
But he said the charges represented "an aberration" for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.
With additional reporting by RAW STORY
This video is from ABC's Good Morning America, broadcast Sept. 27, 2010.