Did US Soldiers Target Afghan Civilians? War Crime Allegations Threaten to Harm America's Image



Part 2: 'I Need to Be Secretive about This'

When the men of the kill team allegedly attacked their first victim, Gul Mudin, on Jan. 15, it was as if they were shooting at clay pigeons. When they saw Mudin on the edge of a poppy field, Gibbs allegedly ordered one of the soldiers to throw a grenade over the wall and then ordered a younger soldier to open fire. But that was only the beginning. On Feb. 22, Gibbs allegedly shot Marach Agha during a patrol and then placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to make it look like self-defense. More than two months later, on May 2, the team apparently shot its last victim, Mullah Adahdad.

But how much did commanding officers know? What did the army do to investigate the murders? Or did it actually try to sweep the crimes under the table? The father of Adam Winfield, one of the five main suspects, claims that he warned the military leadership months ago. Christopher Winfield says that he received the following Facebook message from his son on Jan. 15, the date of the first murder: "I'm not sure what to do about something that happened out here but I need to be secretive about this."

A month later, on Feb. 14, Adam Winfield wrote his father a note saying that his unit had killed "some innocent guy about my age" who had just been working on his farm. Gibbs apparently later accosted Winfield when he tried to talk to a chaplain and warned him to keep quiet.

The Pentagon has said little about the affair. "That's disheartening to hear if that is indeed the case," a spokesman told the Associated Press when asked about Christopher Winfield's warnings which were apparently not taken seriously. "If someone is trying to reach out (and) head off a potential problem, that's something we need to pay attention to."

Extremely Regrettable

NATO is unwilling to comment officially on the incidents. "A criminal investigation is underway," says a spokesman. "We do not comment on ongoing proceedings." Of course, the spokesman adds, the case is extremely regrettable.

News of such atrocities, committed by international troops who are supposed to be bringing stability and justice to Afghanistan, has a particularly serious effect in his country, says Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. On the other hand, he adds, the investigations against the soldiers in the United States show "that such atrocities do not go unpunished, and that the men must stand trial for their misconduct."

But it isn't exactly comforting that the cases apparently only came to light because a soldier reported to his superior officer that some men in his unit were smoking hashish. He was apparently beaten up by other members of the platoon for doing so.

Unreported Crimes

Of course, the Kandahar case also raises the question of what we really know about the true extent of crimes in wartime, about all the misdeeds that are never reported and all the perpetrators who are never brought to trial. An esprit de corps is taking hold once again. A number of soldiers are already denying that murders were even committed in Afghanistan, insisting that they were merely acts of self-defense.

Jeremy Morlock, the youngest member of Gibbs' team and the main witness for the prosecution, also appears to be reconsidering his testimony. His attorney, Michael Waddington, argues that Morlock's statements should be disallowed because he was allegedly under the influence of prescription drugs when he made them.

According to Gibbs' attorney, his client insists that all of the killings were "appropriate engagements."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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