An investigation by Rolling Stone has shed fresh light on the unnerving murders allegedly carried out by a "kill team" of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. In the 8,000-word article, writer Mark Boal — who won an Oscar last year for his screenplay for The Hurt Locker — delves into the gory details of the charges faced by soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 3rd Platoon, and the lengths to which the Army went to cover up the extent of their murderous violence. Here, a list of five takeaways:
1. The kill team murdered with impunity
Five low-ranking soldiers were charged with three murders of Afghan civilians last summer, and were labeled a "rogue unit" that acted covertly and without the knowledge of its superiors. But, writes Boal, a "review of internal army records and investigative files" shows that the "Kill Team" was effectively "operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company." The murder of civilians was thought to be "common knowledge," and officers who were in a position to question the killings — including the 3rd Platoon's commanding officer — failed to do so. Several officers, reveals Boal, have since been promoted.
2. They kept gruesome photos and mementos
One of the accused soldiers, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, allegedly took body parts from murdered corpses as grisly mementos of the kills. He is said to have removed fingers from two murdered civilians, and also removed a tooth from one of the dead. Other soldiers took photos of the trophy kills, and shared them with colleagues via "thumb drives and hard drives." Rolling Stone has obtained these photos [Warning: graphic images]. Some show severed heads and limbs, and others bloodied corpses. "Among the soldiers" of 3rd Platoon, writes Boal, "the collection was treated like a war memento."
3. A coverup went right to the top
Before the charges were revealed last summer, an Army-wide investigation into the alleged war crimes found evidence of the photos — and went to extraordinary lengths to suppress them, writes Boal. The military "sent agents fanning out across America to the homes of soldiers and their relatives," gathering up copies of the video files. Both General Stanley McChrystal and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were made aware of the photos' existence. But they were not revealed until now. "The message was clear," writes Boal. "What happens in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan."
4. There may be more murders... and more suspects
Five soldiers were charged with the murder of three civilians. But evidence from the photos suggests there may be more killings to investigate. One photo of two corpses, alleges Boal, shows two more civilans whose deaths were not reported, "killed by soldiers from another platoon, which has not yet been implicated in the scandal." A source tells Rolling Stone: "Those were some innocent farmers that got killed." Two of the fingers discovered in Staff Sgt. Gibbs' possession did not match the prints taken from the murdered corpses. "Either the records were screwed up," says Boal, "or there were more dead guys out there who were unaccounted for."
5. There's a conspiracy of silence
One of the killers, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, has now been sentenced to 24 years in prison, and Staff Sgt. Gibbs and three others await military tribunal for their crimes. But not a single officer or senior official has been charged in either the murders or the coverup, reveals Boal. A secret investigation into the "critical question of officer accountability" has been carried out, but the Army refuses to reveal what, if any, disciplinary action it has taken against the 3rd Platoon's commanding officers.
Read the entire piece at Rolling Stone.