Thursday, September 4, 2014

When soldiers becomes murderers

It's hardly a fresh insight to say that the war in Afghanistan hasn't flooded the evening news with daily images of battlefield horror. It, therefore, has fallen largely to documentary filmmakers to bring the war, with all its contradictions and terrors, into our collective consciousness. The Kill Team, the latest such film, leaves us shaken as we listen to Private Adam Winfield (pictured above) tell us how his fellow soldiers were drawn into murdering Afghan civilians, apparently as a way of boosting body-count numbers. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who seems to have been the driving force behind such crimes, reportedly went so far as to collect fingers from his victims. Winfield corresponded with his father, a former Marine, about what he was seeing in Afghanistan, but couldn't find a way to expose the crimes without endangering his own life. Winfield's comrades explain the mind-set that led them astray, and include details of how they went about justifying murder. When they found weapons on the battlefield, they kept them for use as "drops;" i.e., weapons planted on civilians to make it seem as if they were threats. Director Dan Krauss, who had access to footage shot by the soldiers themselves, doesn't tell us whether we're watching an aberration or a common practice. But even if Winfield's story is entirely atypical, it illustrates a sobering point: Once the bullets start flying, there's no way to control everything that happens. Gibbs is serving a life sentence. The morally tormented Winfield wound up doing jail time, as well. He was sentenced to three years after a plea deal.

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