'Death Squad': Full horror emerges of how rogue U.S. brigade murdered and mutilated innocent Afghan civilians - and kept their body parts as trophies
By Daniel Bates
Last updated at 4:55 PM on 28th March 2011
Last updated at 4:55 PM on 28th March 2011
- Rolling Stone reveals how U.S. troops murdered Afghan civilians
- Soldiers cut off 15-year-old boy's finger and kept it as trophies
- Video captures U.S. troops cheering as airstrike kills two Afghan civilians
Shocking new details emerged today of how American soldiers formed a 'death squad' to randomly murder Afghan civilians and mutilate their corpses.
An investigation by Rolling Stone magazine details how senior officers failed to stop troops killing Afghans and keeping their body parts as trophies.
In one horrific episode, the magazine claims troops chopped off a dead Afghan boy's finger and later used it as 'gambling chip' in a game of cards.
The damning dossier is likely to prove to be highly damaging for the Army still reeling from last week's revelations about the brutal acts of violence carried out by the notorious 'death squad'.
Horror: A video released by Rolling Stone magazine shows an incident in which two Afghans on a motorcycle are gunned down
Heart of darkness: Video shows American troops seeking out Afghan civilians who were killed 'for sport'
The investigation by Rolling Stone also revealed how:
- Troops shot dead civilians and tried to cover their tracks;
- U.S. soldiers hacked off part of a dead man's skull;
- Soldiers cheered as they filmed a U.S. airstrike blowing up two Afghan civilians;
- A video showed two Afghans on a motorcycle being gunned down.
The magazine claims the men hacked off bits of skull from their victims and kept them as trophies of their kills.
The soldiers are also accused of opening fire on civilians for no reason and covering up their attacks by planting guns and magazine on their victims.
The magazine claims that amongst the accused 'killing innocent Afghan civilians became less a reason for concern than a cause for celebration’.
Last week Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, admitted his part in the twisted scheme and was jailed for 24 years.
The remaining four soldiers who are due to be court-martialled are Sergeant Calvin Gibbs - who is accused of being the ringleader - Specialist Adam C. Winfield, Specialist Michael S. Wagnon II and Private first class Andrew H. Holmes.
They were all part of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, of the 2nd Infantry Division, who carried out at least four executions in Kandahar province between January and May this year.
According to Rolling Stone the men joked for weeks about killing ‘savages’ before finally murdering a boy of around 15 in a farming village, their first kill.
To cover their tracks they threw a grenade in his direction to make it look like they had come under attack.
But with his body on the floor events took an even more sinister turn as Gibbs started ‘messing around with the kid', moving his arms and mouth and ‘acting like the kid was talking'.
He then supposedly took a pair of medic’s scissors and snipped off the boy’s pinky finger and handed it to Holmes as a trophy for his first kill in Afghanistan.
Rolling Stone claims Holmes carried it around in a zip-lock bag.
‘He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,’ a friend said later. ‘He was proud of his finger.’
Later that night Morlock and Holmes were playing a game of cards and, when it came time for their wager, they supposedly said they would bet the finger.
A female medic who was watching walked away in disgust.
Gruesome: The photos which sparked the trial were published in Der Spiegel magazine's March 21 issue
The Rolling Stone article talks in detail about how the soldiers felt invincible and emboldened by the lack of policing by their superiors.
It also details a serious of disturbing videos and pictures of the victims taken by the men - one shows a hand with a missing finger, another depicts a severed head on a stick and others show blown up legs.
In two cases soldiers pose over the bodies of their victims as if they are hunting trophies.
The men also made videos including one which was filmed on Sept 12, 2009.
It shows infra-red camera footage of two Afghans putting what could have been an improvised explosive device in the ground ahead of the soldiers.
Regardless of whether or not it is an IED, filming at such a time is a clear breach of Army rules.
They also edited it down, added a soundtrack and gave it a chilling name - ‘Death Zone’.
In a further breach of regulations the soldiers videoed themselves in combat in Afghanistan and passed around the footage to each other on USB sticks.
Footage to loud rock music shows the moment two Afghans were blown up by an air strike - filmed by by U.S. soldiers, who videoed themselves in combat in Afghanistan and passed around the footage to each other
The footage was published by Rolling Stone magazine in its coverage of the five American soldiers accused of being part of a 'Kill Squad' which murdered innocent Afghan civilians for sport
Rolling Stone has for the first time published the videos which were supposedly passed around by the men of 5th Stryker Combat Brigade as they carried out their executions in Kandahar province.
In the first clip the men can clearly be heard joking: ‘They’re going to f****** die’ and ‘You don’t f*** with us’.
As the airstrike starts so does the song ‘En Vie’ by Apocalyptica, a cello rock band from Helsinki.
One of the men is killed instantly but the second runs off and is caught by another volley of explosions - as the men whoop and cheer ‘F*** yeah!’
A title card called ‘Aftermath’ comes on screen followed by close-up colour images of the men’s bloodied bodies with horrific close-ups on their injuries.
The credits then roll explaining how ‘Shadow PLT’ was behind the picture and that a Sergeant Michael Schweitzer did the editing.
According to Rolling Stone the men would pass the gruesome videos around on USB sticks and hard drives.
They would file them on their personal computers alongside clips of TV shows, Ultimate Fighting fights and films such as Iron Man 2.
A second video released by the magazine shows a separate incident in which two Afghans on a motorcycle are gunned down.
Although not apparently as disturbing as the first, it nonetheless shows a total disregard for combat rules.
Second clip: The video is less disturbing than the first but it still shows a total disregard for combat rules
‘Even if the killings were part of a legitimate combat engagement it is a clear violation of Army standards to share such footage,’ Rolling Stone says.
‘The video was taken on patrol with a helmet-mounted camera; at one point, the soldier shooting the images can be heard boasting: "I got it all on camera".'
The U.S. Army has been keen to paint the men involved as if they were working alone but the article claims that internal records show the ‘Kill team’ was ‘operating out in the open, in ‘plain view of the rest of the company’.
Specialist Jeremy Morlock, left, has already admitted his part in the scheme and was jailed for 24 years - with Andrew Holmes, centre, and Adam Winfield, right, among four others to be court-martialed at a later date
‘Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by "pretty much the whole platoon",' it says.
The revelations have been a PR disaster for the U.S. Army and is the most serious prosecution of alleged U.S. military atrocities during 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
The existence of the photos and videos, among dozens seized as evidence by investigators and ordered sealed from public view by the Army, has drawn comparisons with pictures of Iraqi prisoners taken by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004.
The remaining four soldiers who are due to be court-martialed are Sergeant Calvin Gibbs - who is accused of being the ringleader - Specialist Adam C. Winfield, Specialist Michael S. Wagnon II and Private first class Andrew H. Holmes.
Seven other members of the combat unit were charged with lesser crimes during the investigation, which grew out of a probe into hashish abuse by American GIs.
Four of those men already have pleaded guilty and been sentenced.