US soldier pleads guilty to murdering Afghan civilians

Specialist Jeremy Morlock pleaded guilty March 23 to three counts of murder as part of a plot contrived with fellow soldiers to kill Afghan civilians. At the court-martial, held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Morlock also pleaded guilty to one count each of assault, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. According to the plea-agreement, Morlock agreed to testify against his co-defendants. Four other soldiers in Morlock's unit, the 5th Stryker Brigade, are also charged with the deaths of the three Afghan men, which occurred in the Kandahar province in January, February and May of last year. Morlock told the military judge, Lt.-Col. Kwasi Hawks, that he and his fellow soldiers began plotting the murders of unarmed Afghans in 2009 and killed the three civilians knowing they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat. Morlock testified that Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who is also charged, took the lead in developing the plot. Gibbs maintains that the deaths were a result of combat. In January, the Washington Post first reported that Morlock accepted the plea agreement offered by US Army prosecutors. Morlock, charged in June, is the first of the five soldiers to be court-martialed.

Investigations into the 5th Stryker Brigade have led to additional charges for lesser crimes against seven other soldiers. Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens pleaded guilty in December to shooting two unarmed Afghan farmers following a plea agreement that will allow him to remain in the military after serving a nine month sentence and testifying against other soldiers accused of terrifying civilians. Earlier in the week, the US Army had ordered a court-martial for Staff Sgt. David Bram, who was accused of severely beating an Army private in his unit to keep him from informing about alleged drug abuse within the unit. The Army announced in May that its Criminal Investigation Command was opening an investigation into the civilian deaths in Kandahar.

From Jurist, March 14. Used with permission.

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US GI on trial for Afghanistan atrocities

Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs went on trial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma this week, charged with murdering unarmed civilians and taking body parts for war trophies as ringleader of a rogue platoon that terrorized villagers in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Gibbs, from Billings, Mont., is charged with three counts of premeditated murder, cutting fingers off dead bodies, and beating a fellow soldier who had alerted superiors to widespread drug abuse within their unit. Published photographs show two fellow GIs posing with the bloodied corpse of an Afghan boy they had just killed. If convicted of all charges, Gibbs faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Reuters, Oct. 28)