US army 'kill team' in murder trial
'Death squad' troops accused of targeting civilians in Afghanistan 'for sport'
Published 20/09/2010 | 05:00
FIVE American soldiers who formed themselves into a "death squad" will go on trial this month for the murder and dismemberment of Afghan villagers.
A US military investigation reported that the group allegedly targeted civilians for sport. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have thrown a grenade to feign an ambush as a pretext to shoot dead an innocent villager. Bodies were cut up and photographed and the soldiers are said to have kept bones and a skull as trophies.
A military pre-trial hearing will review evidence later this month and decide on how to proceed, which could result in the men being jailed for life.
All the accused deny any wrongdoing.
American commanders fear details of the incidents could cause widespread anger in Afghanistan, where civilian deaths have fostered deep resentment against coalition forces.
The five soldiers are accused of forming a "kill team" and murdering three people in Kandahar province between January and May this year. Seven others are charged with attempting to impede the military investigation, as well as assaulting a private who blew the whistle on their activities.
The first alleged murder was on January 15, while the platoon was guarding a meeting of tribal elders in the village of La Mohammed Kalay.
When an Afghan man approached the soldiers on foot, one allegedly threw a grenade to simulate an attack and several soldiers opened fire, killing him.
Further murders are said to have followed in February and May. Marach Agha, the second victim, was shot and killed and a Kalashnikov assault rifle was reportedly placed next to the body to justify his shooting.
The third victim died after allegedly being shot and attacked with a grenade.
The relatives of one of the accused have said that the US military failed to prevent the later killings.
Christopher Winfield, father of Adam Winfield, said his son told him of his comrades' actions and warned they were looking for another victim. Mr Winfield phoned the unit's home base in Washington, but was told they could do nothing unless his son reported his fears to his superiors.
Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, Corporal Jeremy Morlock, Private Andrew Holmes, Specialists Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield stand accused of the killings. They were serving with the 3,800-strong 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which suffered nearly 300 casualties in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar before its tour ended in July this year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)