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US soldier sentenced over Afghan civilian murders

Soldier Jeremy Morlock has agreed to testify against the four he claims were co-conspirators in the killings.

Courtroom sketch made yesterday of Jeremy Morlock in an Alaska courtroom.
Courtroom sketch made yesterday of Jeremy Morlock in an Alaska courtroom.
Image: AP Photo/Lois Silver

A US SOLDIER WHO pleaded guilty in the killings of three Afghan civilians has agreed to testify against four others whom he says were co-conspirators in a case that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the Afghanistan War.

Spc Jeremy Morlock, who was accused of taking a leading role in the killings last year, was sentenced to 24 years in prison yesterday – the maximum sentence under a plea deal that also calls for him to testify against his co-defendants.

He pleaded guilty hours before his sentencing to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use.

His voice shaking at times, Morlock told a judge he had a lot of time to reflect on his actions in Aghanistan and ask himself “how I could become so insensitive and how I lost my moral compass.”

“I don’t know if I will ever be able to answer those questions,” he said, adding that he believes he “wasn’t fully prepared for the reality of war as it was being fought in Afghanistan.”

“Unspeakable cruelty”

Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, was the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to undergo a court-martial.

Army prosecutor Capt Andre Leblanc characterised the crimes as acts of “unspeakable cruelty” by “a few extraordinarily misguided men.” ”We don’t do this. This is not how we’re trained. This is not the Army,” Leblanc said during his closing statement yesterday.

Plan to kill

Morlock told military judge Lt Col Kwasi Hawks that he and the other soldiers first began plotting to murder unarmed Afghans in late 2009, several weeks before the first killing took place in January 2010 in Kandahar province. Two others were killed the following February and May.

To make the killings appear justified, the soldiers planned to plant weapons near the bodies of the victims, Morlock said.

During questioning by the judge Wednesday, Morlock said he had second thoughts about the plot while home on leave in March 2010, after the first two killings took place, adding that he no longer wanted to “engage or be part of anything” like those that already had occurred.

But he didn’t voice his doubts to his fellow soldiers when he returned, and he went on to participate in the third killing in May, he said. Asked whether the plan was to shoot at people to scare them, or to shoot to kill, Morlock told the judge, “The plan was to kill people.”

Earlier this week, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published three graphic photos showing Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.

In a statement Spinner read to reporters after sentencing, Morlock apologised for the pain he caused his victims’ families and the people of Afghanistan. He also asked for forgiveness from his fellow soldiers.

- AP

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