A U.S. soldier who pleaded guilty in the killings of three Afghan civilians, saying, "I lost my moral compass," has agreed to testify against four others whom he says were co-conspirators.
Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who was accused of taking a leading role in the killings last year, was sentenced to 24 years in prison Wednesday, the maximum sentence under a plea deal. He had pled guilty to three counts of murder, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use.
The murders reportedly occurred between January and May 2010, with soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, which saw heavy fighting around Kandahar, using guns and grenades to make it appear they were under attack in order to justify killing civilians.
Morlock had told the military judge presiding over the case that the killings were neither justified nor accidental, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. ''The plan was to kill people, sir,'' Morlock told the judge at the start of his court martial.
Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, was the first of five U.S. soldiers charged with killing unarmed Afghan civilians in a case that became headline news this week when Germany's Der Spiegel published three photographs of alleged mistreatment of the corpses of Afghan civilians killed by the soldiers. One photo appears to show Morlock smiling as he holds the head of a dead man by the hair.
In statements, Morlock had said that a superior officer, Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, 25, was the ringleader in the killings; A lawyer for Sergeant Gibbs has said all the killings were justified combat situations.
The men are also accused of taking drugs while on duty and beating up a fellow soldier who complained to superior officers.
During the hearing, Morlock described some of the details of the murders, Spiegel reported.
The unit would go out on patrol from Forward Operating Base Ramrod as part of the American strategy of counterinsurgency, or COIN, which is to protect and befriend the Afghan population in the dangerous Kandahar region.
Once in a village, Morlock revealed how he hid behind a wall with co-defendants as an Afghan approached them.
Morlock then allegedly armed a grenade and threw it towards the victim in such a way as to suggest it was the Afghan who was attacking them.
The victim was then shot, supposedly in self-defense, by another soldier.
— Freya Petersen