The man's body lay on the ground. He turned out to be completely unarmed. According to official statements made by several soldiers, he also appears to have been deaf or mentally disabled. Above his beard, a large portion of his skull was missing, blown away by the hail of bullets. Spc. Michael Wagnon collected a piece of the skull and kept it as a trophy.
It was the team's second killing of an unarmed man in as many weeks, and the second time they violated a body. But rather than investigate the shooting, the platoon's officers concentrated on trying to justify it. When 1st Lt. Roman Ligsay radioed Capt. Matthew Quiggle, the platoon's commanding officer, and informed him that the same unit had shot an unarmed Afghan male, the captain was furious. "He strongly believed that we had illegitimately killed a local national," recalls Quintal.
Quiggle ordered Ligsay to search until they found a weapon. "Lt. Ligsay was pretty freaked out," Quintal recalls. "He was positive he was going to lose his job." For the next hour the platoon swept the area with their flashlights looking for weapons, but they couldn't find anything.
Then Staff Sgt. Bram ordered Quintal to hand him the AK-47 magazine that Gibbs had stowed in the metal box in the Stryker. A private named Justin Stoner passed it down. A few minutes later, a voice called out in the darkness. "Sir!" Bram yelled. "I think I found something."
Lt. Ligsay walked up and saw the black magazine lying on the ground. He called it in, and the platoon breathed a sigh of relief. The members of the kill team knew it was a drop magazine, but it turned the shooting into a legitimate kill.
"The incident was staged to look like he may have had a weapon," Stoner told investigators. "Basically, what we did was a desperate search to justify killing this guy. But in reality he was just some old, deaf, retarded guy. We basically executed this man."
Under the rules of engagement, however, the U.S. military still considers the man responsible for his own death. Because he ignored the platoon's warnings and moved in their direction, no one has been charged in his killing – even though the Army now knows he was gunned down by soldiers intent on shooting unarmed civilians for sport.
Within a month, according to the Army, Gibbs executed another civilian and planted a weapon on the body. It was during Operation Kodak Moment, a routine mission to photograph and compile a database of the male residents of a village called Kari Kheyl. On February 22nd, the day of the mission, Gibbs hid the AK-47 he had stolen from the Afghan National Police in a black assault pack. As the platoon made its way through the village, he went to the hut of Marach Agha, a man he suspected of belonging to the Taliban, and ordered him outside.
First Gibbs fired the AK-47 into a nearby wall and dropped the weapon at Agha's feet. Then he shot the man at close range with his M4 rifle. Morlock and Wagnon followed up with a few rounds of their own. With the scene staged to his satisfaction, Gibbs called in a report.
Staff Sgt. Sprague was one of the first to respond. Gibbs claimed that he had turned a corner and spotted the man, who had fired at him with the AK-47, only to have the rifle jam. But when Sprague picked up the Kalashnikov, it seemed to be in perfect operating condition. A short time later, as he walked down a dusty alley in the village, Sprague himself came under attack from small-arms fire. He responded instinctively by squeezing the trigger on the AK-47 – and the gun fired "with no problems at all."
Sprague reported the discrepancy to Lt. Ligsay. When the body was identified, relatives also reported that Agha was a deeply religious man who would never have taken up arms. He "did not know how to use an AK-47," they told Ligsay. Once again, however, no action was taken, nor was Gibbs disciplined.
With their commanding officers repeatedly failing to investigate, the kill team was starting to feel invulnerable. To encourage soldiers in other units to target unarmed civilians, Gibbs had given one of the "off the books" grenades he had scrounged to a friend from another battalion, Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens. "It showed up in a box on my desk," recalled Stevens, a senior medic. "When I opened the box, I saw a grenade canister, which had a grenade in it and a dirty green sock." Figuring the sock was some kind of joke, Stevens threw it away. Later, when he saw Gibbs, he mentioned getting the grenade.
"Did you get the other thing?" Gibbs asked.
"What, the sock?" Stevens said.
"No, what was in the sock," Gibbs replied.
Inside the sock, Gibbs had placed a severed human finger.
Stevens got the message. On March 10th, as his convoy was driving down Highway 1, the central road connecting Kandahar to the north, Stevens stuck his head out of his Stryker's open hatch and tossed the grenade. It detonated a few seconds later than he had anticipated, and when it blew, it thudded into the vehicle. Stevens immediately began firing at a nearby compound of huts, yelling at another platoon member to do the same. "Get the fuck up, Morgan!" he screamed. "Let's go, shoot!"
No casualties were reported from the incident, but it earned Stevens an Army Commendation Medal and a Combat Medical Badge. Stevens later admitted that he had concocted the ambush not only because he wanted to get rid of the illegal grenade but because he "wanted to hook up the guys in the company" with their Combat Infantryman Badges, 14 of which were awarded in the aftermath of the shooting. All of the awards were revoked when the Army learned the attack had been faked.
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