Crimes committed under the guise of war have always been problematic for lawyers; particularly when you acknowledge the argument that prosecutions against leaders and operatives of wealthy and developed countries are significantly rare. With the provisions of Bush’s American Servicemembers Protection Act 2002 and the adverse stance of the current presidency; it is difficult to see how this will change anytime soon, particularly in regards to the USA. Nevertheless, one American Soldier has pleaded guilty to killing Afghan civilians for ‘enjoyment and sporting’ purposes. The incident occurred between January and May 2010 in what has been colloquially termed the Maywand District Murders.
Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock was stationed as part of a Stryker Brigade at the FOB Ramrod in Kandahar Province Afghanistan. The charges were that they faked combat situations in order to open fire and kill Afghan civilians for their own pleasure and amusement. When asked by an army judge in Fort Lea near Seattle, whether the purpose was to scare them and things got out of hand, Morlock stated: –
“The plan was to kill people sir”
In terms of its severity; the incident has been compared to the instances of torture which Iraqis were subjected to at the Abu Gharib Prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad. The facts of the matter also alluded to many of the accused soldiers keeping skulls and other body parts as souvenirs, after killing their victims. The US Army extended its sincere apologies to the victim’s families saying: –
“The photos are repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States army”
Morlock went on to describe how under the orders of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs; elaborate steps were taken to ensure that the deaths would arouse minimal suspicion as the Afghans would be perceived as dangerous insurgents. Morlock recalled one particular event in his confession, during which he shot a man whilst Gibbs threw a grenade, saying: –
“We identify a guy. Gibbs makes a comment, like, you know, you guys wanna wax this guy or not”
The biggest public relations aspect for the US military is the fact that before they could properly deal with the issue it had inevitably fallen into the hands of the worlds media. German magazine Der Spiegel was first to release an exposé with one image showing Morlock smiling whilst raising the head of a decapitated corpse by the hair. A further image showed unidentified Afghans cuffed and wearing a placard which read “Talibans are dead”.
The incident culminated in five soldiers being charged with murder in the first degree and seven others with offences relating to participation in a cover-up. Morlock himself can expect to serve up to 24 years with eligibility for parole coming after 7 years. His mother Audrey however, argued that charges were disproportionate and the chain of command should be held liable. She told the Seattle Times: –
“I think the government is just playing these guys as scapegoats. The leaders dropped the ball. Who was watching over all this?”
This crime is considered particularly heinous, and, even 7 years on, clouds the US’s achievements in Afghanistan. Whether the leaders should face charges is an interesting point; had this been at the International Criminal Court as opposed to in the USA, then they may well have done so.