A dozen U.S. soldiers are charged with organizing a secret "kill team" which allegedly murdered Afghan civilians at random and cut fingers and other body parts from corpses as trophies, according to new documents released by the U.S. military.
According to news reports, details in the charging documents released Wednesday shed new light on the cases against 12 soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Stryker infantry brigade.
The most serious accusations involve five soldiers -- Calvin Gibbs, Adam Winfield, Jeremy Mortlock, Andrew Holmes and Michael Wagnon II -- who are said to have slain three Afghans earlier this year. According to reports, those men would likely be charged with premeditated murder, but may face additional charges relating to obstructing justice, possessing human body parts and retaining mortar rounds for personal use.
Authorities allege that Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from the Afghan corpses, while Wagnon is said to have kept a skull. The remaining seven soldiers are charged with participating in the cover-up, which included smoking hashish stolen from the civilians, taking photos of the corpses and lying to investigators about their deaths.
Winfield's father Christopher has slammed the accusations against his 22-year-old son, telling the Associated Press he tried nearly half a dozen times to pass on urgent messages to the Army, received via e-mail and Internet chats, from his son earlier this year. According to the elder Winfield, his son had been made aware of -- but did not witness or participate in -- the murder of the first civilian, and had been physically threatened by Gibbs to keep quiet.
From the AP:
On Feb. 14, he told his parents what happened in a lengthy Internet chat: Members of his unit on patrol had killed "some innocent guy about my age just farming." He said he did not witness the killing.
But, he wrote, those involved told him about it and urged him to "get one of my own."
He said that virtually everyone in the platoon was aware of what was going on, but no one seemed to object.
"If you talk to anyone on my behalf, I have proof that they are planning another one in the form of an AK-47 they want to drop on a guy."
Media outlets have equated the alleged crimes to abuses committed by U.S. troops at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. "This is the kind of thing that hurts us enormously," foreign policy expert Michael O'Hanlon told CBS. "It will have a disproportionate effect, just like Abu Ghraib did ... just like the Koran burning would in Florida."
A military grand jury will consider the charges later this month. McClatchy has a helpful breakdown of the charges here.