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Friday, February 3, 2012

Army drops charges against Spc. Michael Wagnon charged with killing Afghan civilians

The Army on Friday dropped all charges against the fifth soldier accused of murdering Afghan civilians for sport during a 2010 deployment, in one of the most gruesome cases to emerge from the Afghan war. Spc. Michael Wagnon of Las Vegas had been charged with the unlawful killing of one Afghan civilian.

Must See Shocking video Below!
Specialist Michael Wagnon, left, and Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, right,

 He had been expected to go to trial in March. In a statement, Joint Base Lewis-McChord said the charges were dismissed “in the interest of justice.” Wagnon’s lawyer, Colby Vokey, said his client was “ecstatic” at the news, “very, very relieved” and eager to tell his wife. “He kept saying over and over, ‘This is great news — I can’t wait to tell Carrie,’” Vokey told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Friday. Four other soldiers from a Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade have been sent to prison in connection with the killings of three unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province.

 In all, 12 soldiers were charged in connection with alleged misconduct that in addition to murder included hash smoking, collection of illicit weapons, the mutilation and photography of Afghan remains and the gang-beating of a soldier who reported the drug use. Eleven soldiers were convicted on various counts. An Army investigating officer had twice recommended that prosecutors dismiss the case against Wagnon. Vokey said he thinks preparations for the impending trial “just kept developing the evidence of Michael’s innocence until it just became overwhelming. “The witnesses coming forward that we were able to speak to all confirmed the same thing — that Michael Wagnon had nothing to do with any kind of illegal activity,” the lawyer said. The case hinged on an account from a “kill team” participant, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who is serving 24 years after admitting his involvement in all three killings. Morlock testified that Wagnon knowingly participated in a scheme to kill a civilian.

 Wagnon had testified that he shot at an Afghan on the day in question because he believed the man had fired a weapon at Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. Gibbs in November was sentenced to life in prison in the killings of three Afghans, including the man in the February 2010 encounter. Wagnon “was simply a soldier pulling security who responded to the firing of weapons and came to support another soldier,” Vokey said. “That’s all Michael Wagnon ever did.” The Army said the decision to dismiss charges was made by the senior Army commander of 1 Corps at the base, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles. An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, said Friday evening that he had no details as to how the decision was reached. Wagnon was released from custody in June.

He has been living unrestricted at the base and working as a soldier, his lawyer said. Vokey said he didn’t know what’s next for his client. “He’s just ready to get on with his life,” the lawyer said. “One of the amazing things is that even with all this hanging over his head, he still loves the Army,” Vokey said. “He’s never blamed the Army for this happening — never become bitter. As an organization, he loves the Army.” Dangerfield said Wagnon “should be able to continue his normal duties as a soldier.” Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Complete Story: Maywand District killings
The Maywand District killings refers to the murder of at least three Afghan civilians perpetrated by a group of U.S. Army soldiers in 2010, during the War in Afghanistan. The soldiers, who referred to themselves as the "Kill Team", were members of the 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. They were based at FOB Ramrod at Maiwand, in the southern Kandahar Province of Afghanistan.
During the summer of 2010, the military charged five members of the platoon with murder of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province and collecting their body parts as trophies. In addition, seven soldiers were charged with crimes such as hashish use, impeding an investigation, and attacking the whistleblower Spc. Justin Stoner.  In March 2011, U.S. Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock pled guilty to three counts of premeditated murder. He told the court that he had helped to kill unarmed native Afghans in faked combat situations. Under a plea deal, Morlock received 24 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for murdering three Afghan civilians, in return for testimony against other soldiers. As of March 2011 eleven of the 12 soldiers charged have been convicted of crimes.

All of the three staged killings of Afghan civilians occurred in the Maywand District of Afghanistan:
On January 15, 2010, in the village of La Mohammad Kalay, fifteen year old Gul Mudin was doing farm work for his father. He was unarmed and killed "by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle," an action carried out by Spc. Jeremy Morlock and allegedly Pfc. Andrew Holmes under the direction of Gibbs. On February 22, using thermal imagery, the soldiers discovered Marach Agha curled in a ball by a roadside. Gibbs and Spc. Michael S. Wagnon allegedly shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. Spc. Jeremy Morlock pled guilty for his death. The Army later said it believed Marach Agha to be deaf or mentally retarded. The soldiers allegedly kept part of his skull. On May 2, 2010, Mullah Adahdad was attacked with a grenade and fatally shot, allegedly by Gibbs, Morlock, and Winfield. Three days after Adahdad was killed members of a Stryker platoon returned to his village. Tribal elders had complained to Army officers that the cleric had been unarmed and that the shooting was a setup. "This guy was shot because he took an aggressive action against coalition forces," Lt. Stefan Moye, the platoon leader, explained to village residents in Qualaday. "We didn’t just [expletive] come over here and just shoot him randomly. And we don’t do that." This conversation was recorded by embedded photojournalist Max Becherer

Soldiers took photos with dead Afghan civilians:
Der Spiegel published three photos of U.S. soldiers posing with the bodies of Afghans they had killed. One of the photos shows Spc. Jeremy Morlock next to one of them. He appears to be smiling and raising the head of a corpse by the hair. Other images published later in Rolling Stone include one of two unidentified Afghans cuffed together around a milestone and wearing a cardboard handwritten sign made out of a MRE package box that read "Talibans are Dead".
 Other photos were taken of mutilated body parts, among them one of a head being maneuvered with a stick. Two videos were also published, one of two possibly armed Afghans on a motorcycle gunned down by members of another battalion of the 5th Stryker brigade called "Motorcycle Kill", and one called "Death Zone" of gunsight footage with jeerings heard in the background showing two Afghans suspected of planting an IED killed in an airstrike with Apocalyptica single "En Vie" as a soundtrack. Senior officials at NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul have compared the pictures published to the images of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Soldiers collected human remains:
 Gibbs used medical shears to sever several fingers that he kept as a form of human trophy collecting. He gave one of them to Holmes, who kept it dried in a Ziploc bag. Five of the Army soldiers face murder charges while seven others are charged with participating in a cover-up.

Staff Sergeant David Bram:
David Bram of Vacaville, California David Bram from Vacaville, California is charged with conspiracy to commit assault and battery, unlawfully striking another soldier, violating a lawful order, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreament and endeavoring to impede an investigation. In May 2011 additional charges were filed against Bram including solicitation to commit premeditated murder, aggravated assault on Afghan civilians, planting evidence and unlawfully discussing murder scenarios with subordinates. He was found guilty of assault, solicitation to commit premeditated murder, aggravated assault on Afghan civilians, failing to report crimes including murder, planting evidence and unlawfully discussing murder scenarios with subordinates. Bram was sentenced to five years in prison eligible for parole after serving about 3 years and four months of his five-year sentence.

Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs:
 Calvin Gibbs from Billings, Montana, the ringleader of the "kill team", was the highest-ranking soldier in the case. He was charged with conspiracy and three counts of murder for plotting and killing three Afghan civilians. A report in The Guardian said that soldiers told the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command that Gibbs bragged of his exploits while serving in the Iraq War, saying how easily one could "toss a grenade at someone and kill them." Prosecutors said Gibbs was found in possession of "finger bones, leg bones and a tooth taken from Afghan corpses". Gibbs was convicted by a military jury on 15 counts including the premeditated murder of Mudin, Agha and Adahdad as well as illegally cutting off pieces of their corpses and planting weapons to make the men appear as if they were Taliban fighters. In November 2011, Gibbs was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years minus the 547 days of pretrial confinement.

Pfc. Andrew Holmes:
 Andrew Holmes' attorneys argued they were constrained in defending him by the Army’s decision to conceal photos of the man he allegedly shot in January. The National Institute of Military Justice argued that the gruesome corpse photos should be made public. Holmes has also said Morlock threatened his life if he told anyone that the killing of Gul Mudin was staged and unnecessary. A doctor testified at Holmes' trial that there were no machine gun wounds on the victim that prosecutors said was shot by Holmes' machine gun. Another soldier testified that the body was riddled with wounds and that it appeared to him that it was Holmes' weapon that killed Mudin. In September 2011 Holmes pled guilty to murder, and was sentenced to 7 years jail.

Sgt. Darren Jones
Jones of Pomona, Calif., faces charges that he beat up another soldier and fired at Afghan civilians who did not pose a threat to him. He was sentenced to seven months in prison and demotion to the rank of private.

Spc. Adam Kelly
Kelly, of Montesano, Washington, was convicted of conspiring to harm the whistleblower Spc. Justin Stoner. He was sentenced to 60 days hard labor and discharged from the Army.

Pfc. Ashton A. Moore
Moore of Severna Park, Md., faced the fewest charges among the group.

Spc. Corey Moore
Spc. Corey Moore of Redondo Beach, Calif., pled guilty that he kicked a witness and stabbed one of the corpses. He was sentenced to 60 days hard labor and a bad conduct discharge.

Spc. Jeremy N. Morlock
 Jeremy Morlock poses with the body of an Afghan boy named Gulmuddin immediately after the boy was killed. Jeremy Morlock, a 22-year-old Army specialist from Wasilla, Alaska, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison by a military tribunal after pleading guilty to three counts of premeditated murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and illegal drug use. He will be dishonorably discharged from the military. He will become eligible for parole after serving 7 years in federal prison. He has agreed to testify against the other soldiers allegedly involved. During his hearing he was asked by Judge Lieutenant Colonel Kwasi Hawks "Were you going to shoot at (civilians) to scare them and it got out of hand?". Morlock replied: "The plan was to kill people, sir". Morlock's mother accused the US government of scapegoating him: "I think the government is just playing these guys as scapegoats. The leaders dropped the ball. Who was watching over all this?" she said in a Seattle Times interview.

Spc. Emmitt Quintal 
Quintal was given a bad-conduct discharge and sentenced to 90 days hard labor in a plea deal for frequently using drugs during his combat deployment, joining an assault on a comrade and keeping digital photos of Afghan casualties. He is also required to testify against others in the case.

Staff Sergeant Robert Stevens 
Robert Stevens, an Army medic from Portland, Oregon, knew Gibbs while serving with him in A-52, the Brigade Commander's Personnel Security Detachment, where they served under CPT Samuel Lynn. The two maintained a close friendship and remained in contact after Gibbs had been transferred from A-52 to 2–1 Infantry. SSG Stevens was sentenced to nine months in prison as part of a plea deal to testify against 11 other Lewis-McChord based Stryker soldiers. He pled guilty to four charges including shooting "in the direction of" two Afghan farmers for no reason. Stevens said Gibbs ordered him to shoot on the two farmers and that he regretted "not trying to stop Staff Sgt. Gibbs from trying to kill innocent people,".

Spc. Adam Winfield 
Christopher Winfield, the father of platoon member Spc. Adam C. Winfield, attempted to alert the Army of the "kill team's" existence when his son explained the situation from Afghanistan via a Facebook chat after the first killing. In response to the news from his son, Christopher Winfield called the Army inspector general's 24-hour hotline, the office of Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and a sergeant at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who told him to call the Army's Criminal Investigation Division. He then contacted the Fort Lewis command center and spoke to a sergeant on duty who agreed that Spc. Winfield was in potential danger but he had to report the crime to his superiors before the Army could take action. Officials became alerted after an unnamed soldier reported hashish use by Morlock and Gibbs, and after reporting the incident to a sergeant, Spc. Winfield was accused of "snitching" and physically assaulted. The assailants warned the private to stay silent, but he contacted investigators, and informed them about hash and alcohol use by members of his company, and further raising his suspicions that some of his fellow soldiers had slain civilians while on patrol. On August 5, 2011, Winfield, charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder, pled guilty under a plea deal to involuntary manslaughter and use of an illegal controlled substance. The involuntary manslaughter charge stems from Winfield's failure to intervene and prevent the other soldiers from carrying out the attack against the Afghan in U.S. custody. Under the plea deal he didn't admit to the killing of Mullah Adahdad. He claimed that he fired his automatic weapon away from Adahdad but that he did nothing to stop the murder. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Spc. Michael Wagnon
In 2011 Wagnon faced the following charges: possessing a human skull fragment, conspiracy to murder an Afghan, conspiracy to harm Afghans, assaulting noncombatants, trying to destroy evidence.

US Army response
 The US Army issued an apology for the photos, stating that "These court-martial proceedings speak for themselves. The photos appear in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers' performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations." In a Department Of Defense Press release on March 28, 2011 the Army stated: The Army will relentlessly pursue the truth, no matter where it leads, both in and out of court, no matter how unpleasant it may be, no matter how long it takes. As an Army, we are troubled that any soldier would lose his ‘moral compass’ as one soldier said during his trial. We will continue to do whatever we need to as an institution to understand how it happened, why it happened and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.” According to a secret US Army investigative report obtained by Der Spiegel, Colonel Harry Tunnell's (of the 5th Stryker Brigade) "inattentiveness to administrative matters … may have helped create an environment in which misconduct could occur." However the report according to Der Spiegel cleared him of responsibility stating there was no 'causal relationship' between the killings and his "aggressive leadership style". At least a dozen media organisations have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the report.
Video of US troops urinating on dead Afghan fighters The US military is investigating an online video which appears to show Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.