While it is still dealing with a sergeant who slaughtered his fellow troops in Iraq, and only months after completing the prosecution of a sergeant who led his "kill team" on missions to murder Afghan civilians, Joint Base Lewis McChord is now preparing to handle its most tragic case of a sergeant out of control - a 38-year-old non-com who went door-to-door in the dark massacring at least 16 civilians including nine children in Afghanistan yesterday, igniting more anti-American hatred and new calls for the U.S. to pull out of the war now.
A wounded 15-year-old boy, according to Agence France-Presse, said the sergeant "came to my uncle's home, he was running after women, he was tearing their dresses, insulting them. He killed my uncle and killed our servant and killed my grandma, he shot dead my uncle's son, his daughter."
After killing others, the sergeant eventually walked back to Camp Belambay and turned himself in, Army officials said. He is reportedly refusing to talk and has demanded an attorney to represent him.
The worst known atrocity of its kind in the 10-year war, the mass murder came in the wake of last month's Quran burnings and an earlier video purportedly showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban extremists, prompting a call for revenge yesterday by the Taliban and a new apology from President Obama.
He called the shootings "tragic and shocking," and said the sergeant's action "does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan." Afghan President Hamid Karzai termed it an "assassination that cannot be forgiven."
Military officials told the Los Angeles Times the soldier had suffered a mental breakdown. That was the case as well of Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, who killed five fellow service members in Iraq three years ago, the worst U.S. soldier-on-soldier violence in that war. Assigned to an engineering unit under Fort Lewis command, Russell, from Texas, who went from suicidal to homicidal in a matter of hours after being refused help by military doctors, has finally been judged competent to stand trial for the slaughter.
Mental breakdown was not the case, conversely, of Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, 26, the Stryker "kill team" leader found guilty in November of 15 crimes including the premeditated murder of three Afghan civilians. Gibbs referred to Afghans as "dirty savages," according to witnesses, and cut fingers from corpses as war souvenirs.
Eleven of 12 accused soldiers in the kill team case were convicted in courts-martial, with seven receiving prison sentences, including a life term for ringleader Gibbs, from Montana. One of the participants-turned-accusers, Jeremy Morlock, 23, of Alaska, claimed at his court martial that the conspiracy to kill noncombatants began after Gibbs arrived from duty in Iraq.
Those prosecutions followed the near-massacre of U.S. civilians by a JBLM Stryker solider in 2010. Spc. Brandon Barrett, 28, of Arizona, was dressed in body armor, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, 21 magazines of ammo, a scope and a bipod rifle mount when he was killed by a Salt Lake City police officer. He'd been planning to take a sniper position atop a Salt Lake hotel and likely shoot civilians below.
In a final report last November, ?the Army concluded that Barrett was sane while killing the enemy in Afghanistan but, for reasons unknown, went crazy afterward, plotting to kill Americans on the homefront.
A senior American military official told the New York Times Sunday that the sergeant accused of the Panjawi massacre was part of what is called a village stabilization operation, a "hearts-and-minds" strategy in which teams of Green Berets and other soldiers attempt to develop close ties with village elders and organize local police units to track down Taliban leaders. The official said the sergeant - described as the father of two children and a service member for 11 years - was not a Green Beret himself.
Relatives of the slain villagers said the bodies of two women showed stab wounds and that some were shot as they ran from room to room trying to escape. Most victims were female and children. Also among the dead was a man about 50, shot in the chest. At least five others were wounded, some seriously, indicating the death toll could rise.