U.S. soldier charged with murdering Afghan civilians faces court-martial

In the first public hearing involving charges that five soldiers killed three unarmed Afghan civilians and kept fingers and other body parts as trophies, an Army investigator on Monday acknowledged that officials have not been able to determine which soldier may have fired the fatal shots because autopsies were not performed on the bodies.

The admission by Special Agent Anderson D. Wagner came during a hearing to determine whether Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, should be court-martialed in the slayings.

Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska is among the Stryker soldiers charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.

Based on records and interviews, four members of the 2nd Stryker Brigade have said that their superior, Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, ordered them to kill the civilians. Morlock gave a lengthy statement to investigators describing his role in the killings.

Under questioning from Morlock’s civilian attorney, Michael Waddington, Wagner said that the bodies were turned over to local police and interred. Investigators do not know where the bodies are buried.

“If this was the United States, it’s a no-brainer, it’s easy,” Wagner said of exhuming bodies. But, he added, in Afghanistan, “to exhume a body would cause a lot of issues. Even if it’s for a good purpose, like we’re trying to determine who killed your son or husband, for religious reasons it could cause an uproar.”

Morlock’s attorneys argue his initial statements should be disregarded because he was medicated to treat brain injuries.

Attorneys or family members of the other soldiers have denied wrongdoing. The military has moved to prevent the release of photos of some of the soldiers posing with the bodies of the civilians, warning it could inflame Afghan opinion.

The killings surfaced after Morlock and other soldiers were accused of beating a member of their platoon who was believed to be an informant about their widespread use of hashish. Wagner testified that Morlock said in his first interview that he wanted to inform the military about the killings but feared Gibbs would harm him.

Of the 18 witnesses listed for Monday’s hearing, 14 invoked their 5th amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying, including the lieutenant of the platoon.

The family of another of the accused soldiers, Adam Winfield, received an email from him after the first killing in January, asking for help to inform the military. But Winfield’s father, a former Marine, has told media outlets that he was rebuffed when he tried to report the slayings. Winfield, who told his parents he feared for his life if he was found to be an informer, was ultimately charged with participating in a killing in May.

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