Update, March 23 - Entering 11 guilty pleas to various charges ranging from assaulting a fellow soldier who squealed on him to murdering three men who'd done him no harm, Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock this morning became the first of five accused Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker soldiers to admit killing civilians in Afghanistan, thought to be the most serious war crimes yet in that 10-year war. Asked by Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks if his actions were responsible for the deaths, Morlock answered in a soft voice, "Yes, sir."
Morlock, in full military dress and bearing his awards ribbons, also detailed the circumstances of each civilian murder by the infantrymen from January into May. In a March incident, "kill team" members, as they called themselves, shot but apparently missed several Afghanis. They also took trophy photos with their "kills" and death souvenirs including fingers, a leg bone and a tooth.
At the end of the day, Hawks handed down a 24-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal that requires Morlock to testify against his fellow soldiers. More than a year was knocked off for time served.
At one point, Hawks asked Morlock about the team's plans. "Were you going to shoot people to scare them, or did it [just] get out of hand?"
No, answered Morlock, "the plan was to kill people."
During a brief lunch break, I asked the youthful-looking Morlock - he was washing his hands next to me in the men's room - how it was going. "Good as can be expected," he said with a weak smile, perhaps contemplating spending a good part of his young life behind bars. Still, despite the length of the sentence, officials indicated that under the military justice system, Morlock may be eligible for parole in less than eight years.
He entered the Army enthusiastically, Morlock told the court. But "I realize now I wasn't fully prepared for the reality of war...I lived in fear of being killed by them (the enemy) every day."
March 22 - The court martial of Stryker "Kill Team" member Jeremy Morlock is set to begin at 9 a.m tomorrow at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The footsoldier will contend that in war, the enemy is whoever you decide to shoot - the reason the 22-year-old might not see freedom until the 2030s. He has already described "fucking killing these people" in a taped interview, and is expected to finally plead guilty to murdering three Afghan civilians, claiming he was otherwise a good soldier.
He and other 5th Stryker infantrymen are pictured with the innocent dead in disturbing Afghanistan trophy photographs distributed yesterday. Geoffrey Nathan, Spc. Morlock's attorney, tells the Wall Street Journal today the soldier will admit "on the record to three counts of murder, plus one count of conspiracy to commit assault and battery and one count of illegal drug use"--hashish, to get him through the day.
The Times reported Monday that Morlock is expected to receive up to 24 years in prison--but with a likely promise of early parole. He's being held in solitary confinement where, his mother says, Morlock struggles with nightmares and "can't hold his hand out straight without shaking."
JBLM spokesperson Joe Kubistek today said the list of charges against Morlock also includes impeding an investigation and violating a lawful general order. According to charging documents, the Army says Morlock conspired from November 2009 to May 2010 with alleged ringleader Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, Pfc. Andrew Holmes, Spc. Michael Wagnon, and Spc. Adam Winfield to "throw grenades at and shoot with firearms 3 males of apparent Afghan descent."
In photos published by the German magazine Der Spiegel, all three victims killed by Morlock and the other Strykers are shown in gruesome, bloody post-mortem poses.
The magazine won't say how it obtained the photos, but Army investigators have been told the trophy shots were readily available, having been passed around soldier-to-soldier on digital storage devices such as thumb drives.
Morlock with one of his "kills."
Some of the Strykers--who took death souvenirs, including fingers, from their victims--reportedly relied on Army medications and drugs to endure the rigors of Afghanistan war. Morlock, for one, claims at one time he was taking 10 different prescription medications and suffered four bomb-related concussions during his year in Afghanistan. He was to be medically evacuated when he was arrested last May.
In his taped interview with investigators, Morlock emotionlessly recounted how Gibbs directed Morlock and Winfield to shoot a noncombatant after Gibbs lobbed a grenade toward him:
"He kind of placed me and Winfield off over here so we had a clean line of sight for this guy and, you know, he pulled out one of his grenades, an American grenade, popped it, throws the grenade, and tells me and Winfield: 'All right, wax this guy. Kill this guy, kill this guy.' " And they did . . . then happily posed with the corpse.