US Army to court martial soldier over three Afghan murders

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The United States Army has announced that Corporal Jeremy Morlock is to face a court martial on three charges of premeditated murder. Morlock is accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport; at least eleven other soldiers are caught up in the allegations.

The prosecution case is that Morlock colluded with Sergeant Calvin Gibbs to plot the deaths of Afghans. Gibbs is said to have planned the attacks which Morlock helped arrange by recruiting other soldiers to carry them out. The pair, as well as three others charged with murder, deny this. Gibbs's lawyer said his client's defence is that the Afghans were killed legitimately, while Morlock's said his client was present but did not cause any deaths. Preliminary hearings in the case were heard last month.

The five are accused of unprovoked grenade and gun attacks. Seven other soldiers are accused of conspiring to cover up the crimes by dismemberment of the corpses and collecting body parts. No other cases have yet been committed for trial, including that of Gibbs. All the soldiers are from the 5th Stryker brigade, which went to Afghanistan last year and has seen combat in Kandahar, where the alleged attacks occurred between January and May this year.

Morlock is also going to stand trial for assault, use of a controlled substance (hashish), attempting to block an investigation, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to assault and "wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties". The soldiers are accused of photographing their victims and keeping body parts as trophies, though the military has not yet commented on if bones they say the men took were in fact from civilian murder victims. Al Jazeera English reports that much media attention has focused on this detail.

The seven not charged with murder are also charged with assault and using hashish. The assault charge relates to the beating of a whistleblower. Morlock could have faced the death penalty on the premeditated murder charges, but the army has decided not to seek this sentence upon a conviction and instead the maximum sentence available is life without parole.

Officials have commented about concerns the case could have a negative impact on relations with the Afghan public, especially with regards to efforts to undermine Taliban support in Kandahar.