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March 28, 2011

Rolling Stone's Report on "Kill Team"

I had meant to link this with Rolling Stone's absurd attempt to connect this up somehow with Sarah Palin. (Maybe she taught Track to body-check too aggressively, zealously and that caused Morlock to...?)

Absurd bias aside, it's worth reading. At least Rolling Stone distinguishes itself from the rest of the media by deeming this newsworthy.

Early last year, after six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji.

Among the men of Bravo Company, the notion of killing an Afghan civilian had been the subject of countless conversations, during lunchtime chats and late-night bull sessions. For weeks, they had weighed the ethics of bagging "savages" and debated the probability of getting caught. Some of them agonized over the idea; others were gung-ho from the start. But not long after the New Year, as winter descended on the arid plains of Kandahar Province, they agreed to stop talking and actually pull the trigger.


...

While the officers of 3rd Platoon peeled off to talk to a village elder inside a compound, two soldiers walked away from the unit until they reached the far edge of the village. There, in a nearby poppy field, they began looking for someone to kill.

...

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. "He was not a threat," Morlock later confessed.

Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still.

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

...

Back at the wall, soldiers arriving on the scene found the body and the bloodstains on the ground. Morlock and Holmes were crouched by the wall, looking excited. When a staff sergeant asked them what had happened, Morlock said the boy had been about to attack them with a grenade. "We had to shoot the guy," he said.

...

To identify the body, the soldiers fetched the village elder who had been speaking to the officers that morning. But by tragic coincidence, the elder turned out to be the father of the slain boy. His moment of grief-stricken recognition, when he saw his son lying in a pool of blood, was later recounted in the flat prose of an official Army report. "The father was very upset," the report noted.

The father's grief did nothing to interrupt the pumped-up mood that had broken out among the soldiers....

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin's bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy's head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

No one seemed more pleased by the kill than Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the platoon's popular and hard-charging squad leader. "It was like another day at the office for him," one soldier recalls. Gibbs started "messing around with the kid," moving his arms and mouth and "acting like the kid was talking." Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic's shears, he reportedly sliced off the dead boy's pinky finger and gave it to Holmes, as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.

Actually it's a little worse than that; a captain was suspicious, but took no action, and even ordered his staff sergeant to fire two bullets into the boy's body to make sure he was dead. I suppose to guarantee he was no longer a threat, but...

They were eventually caught because a fellow soldier, named, ironically, Stoner, got sick of them smoking hash around them and told them to find somewhere else to get stoned. They wound up beating Stoner badly ("snitches get stitches") and he blew the whistle on them in full.

The deal for Morlock was for 24 years, in exchange for his testimony against Gibbs, the squad leader.

And why did all of this happen? Seems like it was the unit's misfortune to have several inclined-to-psychopathic-behavior people in it, reinforcing each other's weird impulses, added to the horrible stress and doubt implicit in a war against terrorists masquerading as farmers:

By the time Gibbs arrived, morale in the Stryker Brigade had hit rock bottom. Only four months earlier, the unit had been deployed to Afghanistan amid a chorus of optimism about its eight-wheeled armored vehicles, a technological advancement that was supposed to move infantry to the battlefield more quickly and securely, enabling U.S. troops to better strike against the Taliban. By December, however, those hopes had dissolved. The Taliban had forced the Strykers off the roads simply by increasing the size and explosive force of their IEDs, and the brigade had suffered terrible casualties; one battalion had lost more soldiers in action than any since the start of the war. Gibbs, in fact, had been brought in after a squad leader had his legs blown off by an IED.

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posted by Ace at 06:35 PM

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