Afghans killed for sport, says report

Tue, Mar 29, 2011, 01:00

Civilians were murdered and body parts cut off, says report in ‘ Rolling Stone’magazine, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

US SOLDIERS in Afghanistan murdered civilians for sport, mutilated the bodies of their victims and kept severed fingers and part of a skull as “trophies”, according to an indepth report published by Rolling Stonemagazine yesterday.

The journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal investigated the atrocities using army records and more than a dozen interviews. Boal won Academy Awards in 2009 for best original screenplay and best picture for The Hurt Locker, about US forces in Iraq.

The US soldiers described by Boal in Rolling Stonecall Afghans “hajis” and “savages”. They “constantly” smoked hashish supplied by Afghan interpreters.

Cpl Jeremy Morlock, who was last week sentenced to 24 years in prison, “did any drug he could get his hands on”. Army officers repeatedly ignored evidence of the killings, on the plains of Kandahar Province between January and May of last year. When confronted with irrefutable proof, the army went to great lengths to suppress the information.

The German magazine Der Spiegellast week published three photographs taken by members of the unit. Rolling Stone has published many more, including images of a decapitated head being prodded with a stick, limbs and mangled torsos.

In some of the photographs, soldiers grin beside the Afghans they killed, portraying “a front-line culture among US troops in which killing Afghan civilians is less a reason for concern than a cause for celebration,” Boal writes.

Cpl Morlock and Pte First Class Andrew Holmes, then aged 21 and 19, killed the unit’s first victim, a “smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old” on January 15th, 2010. While their officers were meeting with a village elder, the men singled out the youth, who was working alone in a poppy field.

The soldiers knelt behind a wall and tossed a grenade at the boy, whose name was Gul Mudin. As it exploded, they fired at him with an M4 assault rifle and a machine gun. They then claimed the boy attacked them. The army captain who arrived on the scene thought the story was “strange”. But he did not follow up on it, and ordered a staff sergeant to deliver the coup de grace. The dead boy turned out to be the son of the village elder whom the officers had visited.

Morlock and Holmes had themselves photographed with Gul Mudin’s half-naked body. Staff sergeant Calvin Gibbs – whom the army holds most responsible for the atrocities – cut off the boy’s little finger and gave it to Holmes as a trophy, which he carried around thereafter in a zip-lock bag. After killing the boy, the men of 3rd platoon were “high-fiving” each other in jubilation, Boal reports.

Morlock and five other soldiers, who have yet to be tried, were promised more lenient treatment for testifying against Gibbs, who allegedly urged the men to kill Afghans whom they suspected of supporting the Taliban. Gibbs had skulls tattooed on his left shin: three red skulls represented the men he killed in Iraq; three blue skulls those he “waxed” in Afghanistan.

Some 20 villagers went to the unit’s headquarters to protest bitterly at the death of Gul Mudin, but their protest was disregarded. The platoon’s top two officers were promoted. When the father of a soldier in the unit called a command centre in the US to complain, the sergeant on duty told him, “Stuff like that happens.” Sgt Gibbs began collecting AK47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons used by insurgents so the soldiers could plant them as fake evidence next to the bodies of the civilians they killed. Their second victim was a man whom the army later said it believed to be deaf or mentally retarded.

Using thermal imagery, they discovered him curled in a ball by a roadside one night. They kept part of his skull as a trophy.

In the village of Marach Agha, Gibbs shot at close range an unarmed man whom he claimed belonged to the Taliban. The unit’s fourth confirmed victim was Mullah Allah Dad, a white-bearded cleric who was killed as the first boy was – with a grenade and gunfire. Soldiers “pushed away the dead man’s wife and children, who were screaming hysterical with grief”. Gibbs again used medical shears to amputate the corpse’s little finger, which he kept for himself.

The atrocities were discovered only because the soldiers beat up a colleague who complained about them smoking hashish in his room. Twelve soldiers have been charged in all, but the army has kept secret its report on officer accountability in the case. “None of us in the platoon – the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant – no one gives a f--k about these people,” Morlock said.