US soldier accused of killing of Afghan civilians to appear at military tribunal

Jeremy Morlock is the first of five soldiers facing hearing accused of creating 'kill team' and taking body parts as trophies

One of five US soldiers accused of being part of a "kill team" that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians for sport and collected body parts as trophies appeared before a military tribunal today.

Jeremy Morlock has already confessed to involvement in killings in which he and other members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province are alleged to have blown up and shot three Afghan civilians in separate attacks this year. They are also accused of collecting body parts, including fingers from their victims and a skull and leg bones of other Afghans killed in the war.

Morlock, 22, is accused of hatching the plan to create the kill team in league with a staff sergeant, Calvin Gibbs, 25, who had boasted of similar activity while serving in Iraq. A total of 12 soldiers face charges over the killings; five with carrying them out and seven with attempting to cover them up as well as other crimes such as taking drugs.

Members of the kill team are also accused of posing next to the bodies of their victims as if they are hunting trophies.

Today's hearing was called to decide whether Morlock should face a full court martial for the three murders and related charges, including assaulting a fellow soldier to prevent him from informing his superiors about various crimes and "wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties".

In a video of Morlock's interrogation released by military prosecutors, the soldier described how one of the victims, an Afghan man, was selected to die, brought out of his home and stood next to a wall.

"We identified the guy and Gibbs said: 'You want to wax this guy or what?'", said Morlock. "He set it up. He grabbed the dude and set the whole scenario up ... He was next to a wall – where Gibbs could get behind to cover after a grenade went off."

Morlock said other soldiers were cleared out of the way before Gibbs killed the man.

"He pulled out one of his grenades and popped it, threw the grenade and then he tells me that we have waxed this guy; killed the guy," said Morlock.

The soldier told the interrogators that the victim was unarmed, co-operative and not a threat.

According to military investigators, Morlock was also directly responsible for killing an Afghan with a grenade handed to him by Gibbs.

Gibbs is also accused of all three murders including one of an unarmed man who he shot and then placed a Kalashnikov rifle next to the body to justify the killing.

Morlock's lawyer, Michael Waddington, said the statements made in the video are unreliable because his client was in a haze of prescription drugs, including anti-depressants and painkillers, to cope with combat wounds. Waddington said Morlock's memory was "foggy".

The five soldiers accused of murder face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.


Chris McGreal in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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