Army soldier says staff sergeant plotted Afghans' killings

A group of U.S. soldiers from a platoon in the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, including Calvin Gibbs, stands accused of targeting Afghan civilians for sport.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 7:39 PM

A U.S. Army staff sergeant dreamed up a plan for fellow soldiers to kill three Afghan civilians this year because he was motivated by "pure hatred," another soldier accused in the slayings has told investigators.

In videotaped and written statements to Army investigators, Spec. Jeremy N. Morlock, 22, a member of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, admitted his involvement in the killings, which took place in Kandahar province between January and May. Morlock sought to shift blame for the plot to his squad's staff sergeant, Calvin R. Gibbs, who he said planted the idea with their unit of killing innocent Afghans for sport.

"Gibbs had pure hatred for all Afghanis and constantly referred to them as savages," Morlock said in one statement, details of which were first reported by the Associated Press.

Morlock, Gibbs and three other U.S. soldiers have been charged with murder in the deaths of the three Afghan civilians. In some of the grisliest allegations against American military personnel since the 2001 invasion of Iraq, they and other soldiers from their platoon also face charges of using hashish, dismembering and photographing corpses, and possessing human bones.

Details of Morlock's statements emerged Monday during a pretrial hearing in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., home of the 5th Stryker Brigade. The hearing was an initial step to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a court martial against Morlock; the other defendants are scheduled to have similar hearings this fall.

Morlock's defense attorney has sought to toss out his client's statements, arguing that Morlock was under heavy medication when he talked to Army investigators in May. His statements are considered key evidence against other defendants as well.

Anderson D. Wagner, a special agent with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, testified at the hearing that Morlock's statements were backed up by other members of his unit and that he did not appear unduly influenced by medication.

"He made good eye contact," Wagner said by telephone from Kandahar, according to the AP. "He was able to recount events that happened several months ago."

Excerpts of Morlock's videotaped statement show the soldier rubbing his eyes and forehead, but speaking clearly as he told investigators how Gibbs allegedly organized the murders.

"He just really doesn't have any problems with [expletive] killing these people," Morlock said in an excerpt posted Monday by ABC News. "And so we identify a guy. Gibbs makes a comment, like, you know, 'You guys gonna wax this guy or what?' "

Gibbs's attorney has said that his client is innocent of wrongdoing and that the killings were justifiable because the soldiers were threatened or under attack.

Court papers allege that the soldiers picked their victims at random while on patrol and made it appear as if the unit acted in self-defense by planting grenades or ammunition.

Several other soldiers have also given statements to investigators, saying that hashish use was rampant in the unit and that some members kept Afghan finger and leg bones as trophies.

Digital photographs of the corpses - and of soldiers posing with them - circulated widely among the unit's soldiers , who stored the images on laptops and thumb drives, according to court papers. Investigators have tried to collect all the images, but Army officials are worried they could become public and possibly inflame tensions among Afghans.

Although Army investigators were able to persuade many of the suspects to talk, they have had less luck recovering forensic evidence from the slayings.

Wagner testified that no autopsies have been conducted because Army officials didn't want to offend Afghans by seeking to exhume the victims' bodies. Court papers show that investigators combed the crime scenes for clues after learning of the slayings in May, but came up empty.

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