During the first five months of last year, a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan went on a shooting spree, killing at least four unarmed civilians and mutilating several of the corpses. The “kill team” – members of the 5th Stryker Brigade stationed near Kandahar – took scores of photos chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. Even before the war crimes became public, the Pentagon went to extraordinary measures to suppress the photos, launching a massive effort to find every file and pull the pictures out of circulation before they could touch off a scandal on the scale of Abu Ghraib.
The images – more than 150 of which have been obtained by Rolling Stone – portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing innocent civilians is seen as a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the soldiers told Army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”
Many of the photos depict explicit images of violent deaths that have yet to be identified by the Pentagon. Among the soldiers, the collection was treated like a war memento. It was passed from man to man on thumb drives and hard drives, the gruesome images of corpses and war atrocities filed alongside clips of TV shows, UFC fights and films such as Iron Man 2. One soldier kept a complete set, which he made available to anyone who asked.
On January 15th, 2010, U.S. soldiers in Bravo Company stationed near Kandahar executed an unarmed Afghan boy named Gul Mudin in the village of La Mohammad Kalay. Reports by soldiers at the scene indicate that Mudin was about 15 years old. According to sworn statements, two soldiers – Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes – staged the killing to make it look like they had been under attack. Ordering the boy to stand still, they crouched behind a mud wall, tossed a grenade at him and opened fire from close range. This photograph shows Mudin’s body lying by the wall where he was killed.
Following the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, the soldiers cut off the dead boy’s clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Here they are shown scanning his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.
In a break with protocol, the soldiers also took photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. In the photos, Morlock grins and gives a thumbs-up sign as he poses with Mudin’s body. Note that the boy’s right pinky finger appears to have been severed. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reportedly used a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears to cut off the finger, which he presented to Holmes as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.
Holmes poses with Mudin’s body. According to a fellow soldier, Holmes took to carrying Mudin’s severed finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”
Prior to the murder of Mudin, in November 2009, the soldiers of Bravo Company were dispatched to recover the body of an insurgent who was killed by rockets from a helicopter gunship. As they collected the remains, which appear to be those shown here, one took out a hunting knife and stabbed the corpse. Staff Sgt. Gibbs, who had recently joined the platoon as a squad leader, began playing with a pair of scissors near the dead man’s hands. “I wonder if these can cut off a finger?” Gibbs asked
A pistol found at the scene of the helicopter strike. Gibbs routinely collected such weapons and planted them on the bodies of unarmed civilians they killed, in order to frame their victim as enemy combatants. The presence of a “drop weapon” virtually guaranteed that a shooting would be considered a legitimate kill.
Another photo of Afghan children. According to one soldier, members of 3rd Platoon also talked about a scenario in which they “would throw candy out in front and in the rear of the Stryker; the Stryker would then run the children over.”
An unidentified soldier next to the wreckage of an Afghan National Police truck that had been blown up near the base’s gate. Inside the truck, Staff Sgt. Gibbs found a working AK-47 with a folding butt stock and two magazines. According to witnesses, Gibbs placed the AK-47 and the magazines in a metal box in one of the Strykers and later used them as “drop weapons” to frame two unarmed civilians the platoon killed as enemy combatants.
In the process of suppressing the photographs, the Army may also have been trying to keep secret evidence that the killings of civilians went beyond a few men in 3rd Platoon. In this image, the bodies of two Afghan men have been tied together, their hands bound, and placed alongside a road.
A sign – handwritten on cardboard fashioned from a discarded box of rations – hangs around the dead men’s necks. It reads: TALIBAN ARE DEAD. According to a source in Bravo Company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the men were killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal. “Those were some innocent farmers that got killed,” the source says. “Their standard operating procedure after killing dudes was to drag them up to the side of the highway.”
The collection of photos includes several dozen images of unidentified casualties, including this one of a severed head. In many of the photos it is unclear whether the bodies are civilians or Taliban. It is possible that the unidentified deaths are unrelated to 3rd Platoon, and involved no illegal acts by U.S. soldiers. But taking such photos, let alone sharing them with others, is a clear violation of Army standards.
An unidentified image of severed legs passed around among the members of Bravo Company. Even if such unidentified bodies were enemy combatants rather than innocent civilians, their inclusion in the collection of photos bespeaks a shocking disregard for human life. “We were operating in such bad places and not being able to do anything about it,” Morlock tells Rolling Stone. “I guess that’s why we started taking things into our own hands.”
Source: Rolling Stones