On Sunday night, Rolling Stone revealed to the world the disturbing existence of a United States “kill team,” the members of which actively targeted, killed, mutilated, and photographed innocent citizens of Afghanistan. “[A]fter six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji,” writes Mark Boal in the feature made available last night, and sure to be a blockbuster by today’s end. Soldiers from the Bravo Company’s 3rd Platoon, a section of the 5th Stryker Brigade, murdered at least four unarmed civilians and took “scores of photos” celebrating their kills. Though the Pentagon attempted to suppress the pictures, lest they find themselves amid another Abu Ghraib-style scandal, Rolling Stone has obtained 150 of the photos. Their brutality is beyond description.
“Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the platoon’s soldiers told Army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”
Rolling Stone is billing the images as depicting “war crimes.” Be warned, they are extremely, disturbingly graphic.
Boal’s accompanying article tells the terrifying story. For instance, soldiers allegedly took a 15-year-old boy, a farmer, behind a shed, threw a grenade at him and opened fire simultaneously from close range, though he posed no threat. Later, they claimed unconvincingly that the boy had thrown the grenade and they were forced to shoot.
No one seemed more pleased by the kill than Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the platoon’s popular and hard-charging squad leader. “It was like another day at the office for him,” one soldier recalls. Gibbs started “messing around with the kid,” moving his arms and mouth and “acting like the kid was talking.” Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears, he reportedly sliced off the dead boy’s pinky finger and gave it to Holmes, as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.
According to his fellow soldiers, Holmes took to carrying the finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”
These “staged killings,” Boal writes, ” were “an open topic of conversation”:
Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by “pretty much the whole platoon,” according to one soldier who complained about them.
There’s much more to the nightmare. Two videos are among the censored images being made public online. This story isn’t going away.