I want you to see the clip because this will be a very big story very soon, but I don’t know what to say about it that isn’t completely obvious. No one’s been convicted of anything yet, a lesson worth bearing in mind after the early rush to judgment about the guilt of Marines charged in the Haditha incident. No one’s claiming that this is anything but an extreme outlier in terms of how troops behave in the field, although of course the allegations about fatigue, brain injuries, and drug use will prompt some soul-searching about whether active-duty soldiers are getting the help they need to cope with stress. No one’s denying that war crimes do happen, or that they should be punished appropriately. There are no grand conclusions to be drawn. The clip simply is what it is, and what it is is horrifying.
On the tape, Winfield describes the fatal encounter with the Afghan civilian for which he is charged. “He seemed friendly, he didn’t seem to have any animosity towards us,” Winfield says. “Brought him out, sitting in the ditch. Me and Morlock were behind the berm … Sergeant Gibbs said, ‘This is how it’s going to go down. You’re going to shoot your weapons, yell “grenade,” I’m going to throw this grenade. After it goes off, I’m going to drop this grenade next to him. That’s it.’ So he had two grenades on him.”
Winfield: “So, we’re laying there and Morlock told me to shoot, so started shooting. Yelled ‘grenade,’ grenade blew up and that was that.”
Investigator: “Who gave you the order to shoot?”
Winfield: “Morlock … and we fired once he said ‘Shoot.’ Grenade blew up. Sergeant Gibbs threw the grenade; it blew up and then he came over, shot the man probably two more times in the head.”
Winfield said that Gibbs told him after the killing that he was part of the group.
Investigator: “Did he ever hold against you that you killed a man?”
Winfield: “No, he told me I was a made man after that.”
Five men have been charged with the premeditated murder of three Afghan civilians (seven other soldiers are up on lesser charges), so there’s at least a possibility that the finger-pointing at Gibbs, the staff sergeant alleged to be the ringleader, in their confessions is driven by a desire to reduce their own potential sentences by finding a scapegoat. I hope that’s what’s happening, actually, because the idea of a guy like the one they describe wandering around, killing for fun and taking body parts from his victims as souvenirs, is straight out of the Ted Bundy playbook. One of his men said of him, “He likes to kill things. He is pretty much evil incarnate.” If they’re telling the truth, he’s right.
ABC has a few other short videos from the confessions. Brace yourself, seriously.