Adam's War The Good Boy and the 'Kill Team'
Part 5: A Murderer or Victim of War?
That morning, Mullah Allah Dad was drinking green tea at his home in a hamlet near the village of Kalagi. His wife Mora was with him in the room when one of his seven children came in to report that American soldiers had appeared there. Allah Dad was the village imam. As such, he was someone that the American forces in reality needed as an ally in the war against the Taliban. He left his house to talk to the Americans, but they immediately took him away.
Winfield later recalled how they drove through the village. They saw the man standing in front of his house looking around. He "kind of looked like he was a little off," Winfield recalled, but added that the man looked harmless and friendly: "He didn't seem to have any sort of animosity towards us."
Nevertheless, Gibbs gave the order to seize the man. "Just put him down in that ditch right there. Put him on his knees," he said. Winfield didn't have the feeling that the man was a member of the Taliban. The mullah appeared to him to be "friendly and unarmed."
Then Gibbs called out, "Grenade."
Winfield will remember that moment for the rest of his life. Later he would make the statement that Gibbs threw the grenade, and afterwards placed a second, Russian pineapple grenade next to the body of the mullah. Morlock ordered him to shoot. He followed the order, Winfield said. "Morlock told me to shoot so I started shooting. That was that."
After killing the mullah, Gibbs, Morlock and Winfield leaned over the body. In the report of the military investigator, Corporal Emmitt Quintal had the duty of taking Mullah Allah Dad's fingerprints. Quintal stated that he saw how Gibbs "used medical scissors to cut off what he thought was the left pinky finger off the individual." Afterwards he witnessed Gibbs "remove a tooth from the individual with his hands while wearing surgical gloves." Gibbs gave the tooth to Winfield, for him to keep as a war trophy. Winfield later told Army investigators, "Sergeant Gibbs pulled out one of his teeth, told me to keep it as a trophy. I didn't take it. I threw it back on the ground. I just like kind of said, 'I'll just let that dry'."
In order to cover up the act, the members of the patrol claimed that Allah Dad wanted to attack them with a hand grenade, which they claimed exploded during the incident. When an Army investigation team came to the village three days later, an American soldier explained to the villagers: "This guy was shot because he took an aggressive action against coalition forces. ... We didn't just fucking come over here and just shoot him randomly. And we don't do that. ... Not only is it important that you understand that, but that you tell everybody. ... Because this is the type of stuff the Taliban likes to use against us and fucking try to recruit people to fight against us."
A 'Made Man'
After the murder, Winfield had no more problems with Gibbs. "He just told me that I was a 'made man' afterwards," Winfield told the investigators. "I interpreted that (to mean) he trusted me and that afterwards I really didn't think I had anything to worry about anymore." After the May 2 murder, Winfield was also given a new nickname, "Bear Jew" -- the name of a character in Quentin Tarantino's film "Inglourious Basterds" who enjoyed killing Nazis. Adam Winfield was finally rid of his tormentor, Gibbs.
Is Winfield a murderer or a victim of war? Or was he just too weak or cowardly to assert himself against the system of unconditional loyalty to his buddies? Is it true, as his father says, that Adam had no opportunity to complain? "If he had complained, it would have all ended up with Gibbs, and Gibbs would have seen to it that he was killed," Christopher Winfield says.
One day after the third murder, another member of Winfield's unit, Justin Stoner, returned from one week's leave. When he entered his room, he noticed that his comrades had been smoking hashish in his absence.
Because he didn't want to be held responsible for the drug use, he reported the incident to the company leader, who made a record of the complaint. It wasn't long before Gibbs heard about it and called his people together. Gibbs' men apparently decided to seek revenge for the act of betrayal. "Their best response was to get together and beat me up," Stoner testified later.
It was early in the afternoon of May 5 when they came into Stoner's room. There were seven soldiers, among them Gibbs, Morlock, Quintal and David Bram. Winfield was not there, however. Gibbs had asked Winfield if he wanted to come with them, saying he had discovered who had reported the hash use. But Winfield refused to take part. He would later say that Morlock came to his room after the incident and told him what had happened.
The 'Kill Team' Unravels
After entering Stoner's room, Gibbs began very politely, saying he was really sorry that things had happened the way they had. Gibbs said that he just wanted to make sure that Stoner "shut the fuck up from here on out." They all started hitting and kicking Stoner. Then somebody took hold of his ankles and threw him to the ground. Once down, they kicked him until he was covered in bruises. They made sure to spare his head, however, so that his superiors would not notice that he had been beaten.
Later, Gibbs returned and took mummified fingers out of his pocket. Morlock told Stoner, "Hey, dude, you know, if you don't keep your mouth shut from now on, it's pretty apparent that, you know, Gibbs here can kill people -- has killed people and is pretty willing to do it if he has to."
But after the beating, Stoner went to Gibbs's superior to complain. He logged the complaint and then asked him to go back to his room. Stoner replied that he couldn't go back now, saying: "I don't want to die like those innocent Afghans."
That sentence would mark the beginning of the end for the kill team. On May 7, Stoner was taken from Ramrod to Kandahar, where he was questioned for three days. He told investigators: "The reason that I fear for my life is that my unit is notorious for going on patrol, finding an innocent person and killing them without reason." That same day, Gibbs told his team that he had already survived countless investigations and that nothing would happen, provided everybody kept their mouths shut.
On May 11, Morlock admitted to the three murders after hours of questioning. He then decided to testify against Gibbs to obtain a milder sentence.
Gibbs was arrested the same day. The military ordered more investigations. More than two dozen soldiers were questioned, and all laptops, cameras and other media belonging to the suspects were confiscated.
4,000 Photos Documenting Atrocities and War Horrors
The digital data revealed more about what Gibbs and his friends had done. Investigators found some 4,000 photos that documented their atrocities and the horrors of war.
It is still unclear just how many people the kill team are responsible for killing. In the trials against Morlock and the others, only the three murders that Morlock and Winfield have confessed to will initially play a role. The 76 charges indirectly reveal the significance of the trophy photographs in the trial. The images show how skulls and human limbs were collected, and dead bodies put on degrading display. In the 5th Stryker Brigade, such photos were traded like baseball cards.
It is not clear when the trial of Sergeant Gibbs will begin. He completely refuses to talk to investigators and has not said anything in response to any of the charges. The families of the victims have so far received no compensation.
General McChrystal and his successor David Petraeus hoped to turn a corner in the Afghanistan war by implementing their counterinsurgency strategy. The COIN guidelines were to be the heart of this strategy, and each new success would indicate that the Afghans were beginning to trust their American allies.
Sergeant Gibbs and his men on the kill team helped see to it that this trust would never be possible. And in order to stop the damage they did from getting any bigger, the Pentagon did everything it could to keep the kill team's pictures under lock and key. "The US Army has spent more time keeping those photos secret than investigating the crimes," claims Daniel Conway, Andrew Holmes's attorney.
Adam Winfield was questioned on May 12, 2010 in Kandahar. He confessed to having taken part in the third murder. "I don't know if it was my bullets that killed him or the grenade that killed him but I was still a part of it," he said. "It was pretty much the worst thing I've ever done in my life ... like to the man, his family."
In mid-June, the telephone rang at Emma and Christopher Winfield's house in Cape Coral. A Major Cornado was calling from Fort Lewis, the home base of Adam's brigade. Adam was back home, he said. For a moment Emma breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that everything would be all right. But then Major Cornado went on: "Your son has been charged. With deliberate homicide."
Speaking of his superior Gibbs, Adam Winfield told the investigators, "When he first showed up, we didn't get along. I think that it was because he thought I was meek and too tame for his little kill team."
Investigator: "Did you say 'kill team'?"
Winfield: "Yes, that is what he called it. Kill team."
On Tuesday, Dec. 14 2010, Winfield appeared before the military tribunal at the Lewis-McChord base near Seattle. The head of the tribunal called his name. The young soldier was wearing an olive-green uniform, and his name could be read on the left side of his chest.
He stood there stiffly, shoulders hunched. With his mussed black hair, he still looked almost like a boy. His entire body was trembling, and his legs could barely support him. But nonetheless he still followed orders and wanted to do everything right.
The head of the tribunal informed him that he would shortly be standing trial: "You will be charged with having deliberately committed a murder." Then he asked Winfield whether he understood.
And Adam Winfield drew upon his last ounce of strength, the last bit of his pride, to say two words, the only thing he would say to the tribunal that day. "Yes, Sir."
Translated from the German by SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff, with assistance provided by Astrid Langer.