By Nick Schwellenbach
This is the third Rolling Stone article that I've highlighted in the last month or so, but the magazine's new special report, dubbed "The Kill Team," is worth a read.
It offers a thorough look at how American soldiers in Afghanistan allegedly murdered Afghan civilians. One, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, recently pleaded guilty to charges of murdering three Afghans and has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.
What's most interesting about the article, in my opinion, is that it raises questions about military officer accountability and highlights the lack of any real investigation for several months despite high-level awareness of suspicious behavior. A few choice nuggets (with emphasis added):
...a review of internal Army records and investigative files obtained by Rolling Stone, including dozens of interviews with members of Bravo Company compiled by military investigators, indicates that the dozen infantrymen being portrayed as members of a secretive "kill team" were operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company. Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by "pretty much the whole platoon," according to one soldier who complained about them. Staged killings were an open topic of conversation, and at least one soldier from another battalion in the 3,800-man Stryker Brigade participated in attacks on unarmed civilians. "The platoon has a reputation," a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. "They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it."
From the start, the questionable nature of the killings was on the radar of senior Army leadership. Within days of the first murder, Rolling Stone has learned, Mudin's uncle descended on the gates of FOB Ramrod, along with 20 villagers from La Mohammad Kalay, to demand an investigation. "They were sitting at our front door," recalls Lt. Col. David Abrahams, the battalion's second in command. During a four-hour meeting with Mudin's uncle, Abrahams was informed that several children in the village had seen Mudin killed by soldiers from 3rd Platoon. The battalion chief ordered the soldiers to be reinterviewed, but Abrahams found "no inconsistencies in their story," and the matter was dropped. "It was cut and dry to us at the time," Abrahams recalls.
With their commanding officers repeatedly failing to investigate, the kill team was starting to feel invulnerable.
So far, though, no officers or senior officials have been charged in either the murders or the cover-up. Last October, the Army quietly launched a separate investigation, guided by Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty, into the critical question of officer accountability. But the findings of that inquiry, which was concluded last month, have been kept secret—and the Army refuses to say whether it has disciplined or demoted any of the commanders responsible for 3rd Platoon. Even if the commanding officers were not co-conspirators or accomplices in the crimes, they repeatedly ignored clear warning signs and allowed a lethally racist attitude to pervade their unit. Indeed, the resentment of Afghans was so commonplace among soldiers in the platoon that when Morlock found himself being questioned by Army investigators, he expressed no pity or remorse about the murders.
If you missed it the first time, POGO sat down with the parents of one of the accused soldiers, Spc. Adam Winfield, for a special podcast. They described their efforts to contact the military soon after the first killing, and said that the military did nothing in response.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO's Director of Investigations.