Sunday, September 26, 2010

Army censors photos of Afghan corpses in ‘kill-for-sport’ trial


Army whistleblower 'beaten within an inch of his life'

Evidently worried about a repeat of the anger aimed at US forces over photos of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the US military is restricting access to photos of Afghan corpses in the "kill-for-sport" trial of five US soldiers.

According to the New York Times, Benjamin K. Grimes, a senior counsel for the defense, was "inadvertently" sent images last week that show, among other things, "three dead Afghans with three different soldiers posing, holding up the decedent’s head. (Each photo was one Afghan, one soldier.)”

Military officials quickly asked for the photos to be returned. "In an unusual move, prosecutors then demanded defense representatives at the base return the computer disk containing the photos," reports the Seattle Times.

"The decision reflects concern among the Army’s senior leadership that such evidence could anger Afghan civilians at a time when the United States is trying to win support for a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban," states the New York Times.

In a memorandum, Army Col. Barry F. Huggins cited "negative impact on the reputation of the armed forces" as the reason for the order to keep the photos out of the public eye. He argued that limiting the photos to judges and lawyers directly involved in the case would cause only "minimal hardship."

Five soldiers were charged with murder in June, accused of participating in the killings of three Afghans. At the center of the allegations is Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who prosecutors say formed a "kill team" to randomly kill Afghans while on patrol.

The soldiers now face what the Pentagon calls Article 34 hearings, which will determine the exact charges they will face. The first of the hearings, due to begin Monday, focuses on Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, who faces charges of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghans killed between January and May this year.

Morlock is among the five soldiers charged with murder in the case, while seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation, using hashish and severely beating a comrade in retaliation for blowing the whistle.

The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

The military hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state will determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, and more hearings are expected in coming weeks for the other defendants.

Morlock and several of the men also are charged with punching and kicking a fellow soldier to stifle an investigation into hashish use.

Describing the assault on the soldier, the charge sheets accuse Morlock of "threatening to kill him if he spoke about hashish use with the platoon command and law enforcement authorities," and that he showed him "fingers removed from a corpse."

Officials had told AFP in May that the whistle blower, whose identity has been kept secret, was badly battered, with one source saying he was "beaten within an inch of his life."

The motive and many details of the alleged crimes remain unclear, and authorities have yet to answer allegations that warnings of atrocities were ignored for months.

The father of one of the accused, Specialist Adam Winfield, has told US media that his son warned him via Facebook that his unit had killed an Afghan civilian for no reason and was plotting to commit more murders.

The father, Christopher Winfield, alleges he phoned military authorities and even the office of a US senator, Bill Nelson of Florida, to try to pass on his son's information.

His son, Adam, also faces murder charges.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the charges represented "an aberration" for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.

The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones were taken from the slain civilians.

Prosecutors allege Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses.

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