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Father: Army Ignored Complaints Of Afghan Slayings

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Father: Army Ignored Complaints Of Afghan Slayings

Afghanistan

Father: Army Ignored Complaints Of Afghan Slayings

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Army Specialist Adam Winfield served in Kandahar Province this year, and he sent up a cry for help in Facebook messages to his father. He said his fellow soldiers were committing murder.

Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN: Specialist Winfield complained, in those messages home, that he was being hounded by his platoon leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. Sergeant Gibbs was angry when Winfield failed to lock the hatch of his armored vehicle, so the sergeant gave him extra duty. Fed up, Winfield tapped out a message to his father, Chris, on a January day, complaining that his mistakes were minor compared to what Gibbs had done. Here's Chris Winfield.

Mr. CHRIS WINFIELD: He gets in trouble for little things when the golden child of the platoon - and he was speaking about Gibbs - he said the golden child can do no wrong. He can commit murder - and he put it in parenthesis - and get away with it, and everybody seems to be fine with it.

BOWMAN: The Army has now charged Gibbs with three murders. The charging documents allege the first one occurred shortly before Specialist Winfield sent that message to his father. The Army says Gibbs tossed a grenade at an Afghan civilian, then ordered his soldiers to open fire, killing him.

Gibbs' lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, says his client did nothing wrong, and that all the killings took place during combat and were justified.

Chris Winfield didn't hear from his son again for another month - not until February. This time, says the father, his son's messages were more desperate.

Mr. WINFIELD: He was kind of torn, you know. He was like, do I do the right thing? Do I put my life on the line? Do I say something to somebody? What do I do? And...

BOWMAN: Did you tell him to do anything?

Mr. WINFIELD: Well, I told him - I said, is there anyone you can go to? And he said no. He said, Gibbs is watching my every move and he's already threatened -you know, threatened me, that if I say anything that he's going to do something to me.

BOWMAN: So the father, Chris Winfield, took it upon himself to get someone in the Army to listen. He left messages with an Army hotline; spoke with a sergeant at Fort Lewis, Washington, where his son's unit is based, who referred him to Army investigators. So he called the investigators, and left a message. Then he spoke with another sergeant at a command center at Fort Lewis, who suggested his son report the incident after he got home.

Mr. WINFIELD: And then he can turn the guy in, in safety, and not worry about any repercussions. And I just was like, you've to go be kidding me.

BOWMAN: Eric Montalvo, Winfield's lawyer and a retired Marine officer, says the system failed.

Mr. ERIC MONTALVO (Lawyer, Retired Marine Officer): All service members have a basic obligation that if they are in receipt of information that is related to a crime, they're required to do something about that.

BOWMAN: Army officials say they're looking into why no one followed up on Chris Winfield's calls. And it was after those calls, according to Army documents, that two more murders of Afghan civilians were committed by Sergeant Gibbs and his soldiers - one in February, another in May. Among those charged in the third alleged murder? Specialist Winfield, the same soldier who wrote his dad and alerted him to what was going on.

The Army says Winfield shot at an unarmed Afghan man after Gibbs tossed a grenade. Winfield's lawyer says his client was ordered to shoot by Sergeant Gibbs, but aimed high.

Mr. WINFIELD: We were floored. I was shocked.

BOWMAN: Again, Chris Winfield.

Mr. WINFIELD: If they would have listened to me - for one thing, my son would have never been arrested and two, there would have been two more Afghans still alive.

BOWMAN: The Army finally did listen to Winfield - after his son was charged. Army investigators went to his home to get a statement, the Facebook messages from his son, and his phone log of calls to the Army.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: We're also following this story: A new book details how President Obama and his advisers debated his Afghanistan strategy. The book, by Bob Woodward, says the president dictated his own strategy in 2009, when the military didn't propose a quick-enough exit. Adviser Richard Holbrooke is quoted as saying: That strategy can't work.

It's NPR News.

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