'Rogue platoon' soldier faces life in prison for Afghan killings

16/10/2010 09:27
'Rogue platoon' soldier faces life in prison for Afghan killings

US Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, will face a court-martial on murder charges, the US military said on Friday. Morlock is the one of 12 soldiers accused of illegal killings as part of a rogue infantry platoon in Afghanistan.

By News Wires (text)

REUTERS - The first of 12 U.S. soldiers accused of terrorizing unarmed civilians as part of a rogue infantry platoon in Afghanistan will face a court-martial on murder charges and other offenses, the military said on Friday.
U.S. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, from Wasilla, Alaska, is charged with three counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Afghan civilians he is accused of killing for
Although a charge of premeditated murder carries the possibility of the death sentence, it was decided in this case that Morlock would face a maximum sentence of life in prison
without the possibility of parole if convicted on all charges, Army spokeswoman Major Kathleen Turner said.
Morlock's case was referred to general court-martial this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, the home base of his Army unit, but no trial date has been set, according to a statement from the base.
The case has drawn intense media scrutiny because Morlock and fellow soldiers are accused of taking ghoulish photos of corpses and taking body parts as war trophies -- inflammatory charges that recall worldwide outrage at pictures of nude Iraqi prisoners of war taken by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Morlock's civilian lawyer, Michael Waddington, has said the three slain Afghans -- two killed by grenades and rifle fire, one by gunfire only -- were victims of a "rogue platoon running around killing people," and that his client, while present, "did not cause the deaths of any of these individuals."
The case now comes under the control of a military judge who will arraign the accused, and set dates for potential motion hearings and the trial.
Morlock is one of five soldiers charged with murder in the case. Seven others from his unit are charged with lesser offenses, such as conspiracy.
The prosecution of the 12 soldiers stems from their recent deployment as part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, recently renamed the 2nd Stryker Brigade, in Kandahar province, a stronghold for Taliban insurgents.
The investigation has raised questions about whether the accused, all enlisted men, were influenced by commanders who may have been contemptuous of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan, which emphasized building the trust of Afghan citizens.
"There are severe problems with attitudes toward counterinsurgency strategies, namely winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, in the leadership as well as among the soldiers in the Stryker brigade," said Stjepan Mestrovic, a Texas A&M professor and author of a book on misconduct by U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
"Soldiers have told me that they resented having tea with village elders knowing that others in the villages collaborated with the Taliban or were making IEDs to kill Americans," he told Reuters in an e-mail message this week.

The Pentagon has not commented on the matter.
During the first evidentiary hearing on the case last month, a so-called Article 32 proceeding, prosecutors characterized Morlock as the right-hand man to the accused
ringleader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs.
Testimony offered in the case also suggested widespread use of hashish and of prescription medications for pain, stress and sleep problems among the troops.
A second such hearing had been scheduled for next Tuesday for a soldier charged with conspiracy to commit murder of Afghan civilians. But Major Turner said that hearing had been postponed indefinitely.


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