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A United States soldier pleaded guilty last week to the murders of three unarmed Afghan civilians. Spc. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, the 22-year old accused, was court-martialed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle. The investigation of war crimes implicated a dozen members of Morlock’s platoon.
Last Wednesday, Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison. He was accused of taking a lead role in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010. Under the plea deal, Morlock also agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
When asked by a military judge whether the plan was to shoot at people to scare them or intentionally shoot to kill, Morlock replied, “The plan was to kill people.” Morlock is the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to be court-martialed. His lawyer, Geoffrey Nathan, felt that was an advantage. “The first up gets the best deal,” Nathan said by phone Tuesday, noting that even under the maximum sentence, Morlock would serve no more than eight years before becoming eligible for parole.
Morlock told the judge, Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks, that he and his co-defendants first began plotting to murder unarmed Afghans in late 2009, several weeks before the first killing took place. To make the killings appear justified, the soldiers planned to plant weapons near the bodies of the victims, Morlock said. “Did everybody know, `We’re killing Mont., who is also charged in the case. Gibbs has maintained that the killings were legitimate.
The defense has argued that the killings were due to a lack of leadership. “He’s really a good kid. This is just a bad war at a bad time in our country’s history,” Nathan said Tuesday. “There was a lack of supervision, a lack of command control, the environment was terrible. In his mind, he had no choice.”
The German news organization Der Spiegel published three graphic photos last week that displayed Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One picture shows Morlock smiling as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.
After the first killing, platoon member Spc. Adam Winfield sent a message to his parents telling them about the murder and the plan to kill more civilians. Winfield’s father then alerted a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit reported the deaths.
Seven other soldiers in the platoon were charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.