They drank. They did drugs. They laughed about how easy it would be to kill civilians in a war zone.
Then they did it, according to the Army.
Five soldiers have been charged with killing Afghan civilians in three different incidents over five months. The soldiers were members of 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment. They had been stationed north of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold.
Here's how they did it, according to the Army charging documents (in full after the jump). In the first incident, in January, an Afghan approached Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and his men. Gibbs threw a grenade at him, and then ordered his men to open fire, killing him. In February and again in May, the Army alleges, Gibbs led his men in similar actions.
Gibbs also collected gruesome trophies from dead Afghans. Fingers. Leg bones. Teeth.
Gibbs lawyer says the Army is wrong, and that the killings were legitimate acts in combat situations.
NPR's Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman says the army began to investigate the killings after one soldier came forward. First he reported the drug and alcohol abuse. Then Gibbs and the other soldiers beat him up, threatening him, showing him their collection of fingers. That's when he started to talk about the killings.
But months earlier another soldier, Spc. Adam Winfield, had written his father right after the first incident and told him that people were getting away with murder. He called an army hotline, he got in touch with the unit's command. Nothing happened. Now his son is being charged in the third shooting.
A debate has broken out in the blogosphere about just how far up the chain of command people should be held responsible. You can see the debate on Tom Rick's blog here, or on Wired's Danger Room blog here. One of the more disturbing comments comes from "Charlie" Simpson, who spent last year as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan.
We worked extensively with this brigade while I was in RC South earlier this year. And I have little doubt the permissive, savage command climate emanated from the top. There were multiple opportunities (and calls) to relieve the brigade commander following a disastrous performance in Arghandab; instead the RC South commander reassigned the battalions and developed a new mission for the brigade. Had the Army (or Generals Rodriguez or McChrystal) relieved the CO in November or December 2009 these horrific abuses may have been thwarted.
The Army Article 32 hearings could begin in a couple of weeks.
Here are the charging documents of the five accused of murder: