Five soldiers accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan are now facing additional charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder -- a plot that allegedly began when one soldier discussed how easy it would be to "toss a grenade" at Afghan civilians, The Seattle Times reported Wednesday.
The five soldiers were charged with murder in June for the deaths of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province this year. According to charging summaries newly released by the Army, additional allegations of conspiracy have since been filed against those soldiers, and seven others have been charged in connection with the conspiracy or with attempting to cover it up.
The new charges arose from the investigations into the killings and into a brutal assault on an enlisted man who had informed on soldiers smoking hashish, The Times reported. The informant reported hearing soldiers talk about killing civilians.
The Army told The Associated Press Wednesday that it is redacting charging documents that detail the new allegations and expects to release them next week.
As part of the widening probe, investigators have interviewed platoon mates and defendants, The Times reported, citing documents that defense attorneys filed with an Army magistrate judge, as well as interviews with defense attorneys. Two of the defense lawyers did not immediately respond to e-mails from the AP on Wednesday.
Some platoon members told investigators that Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs began joking with other soldiers last December about how easy it would be to "toss a grenade" at Afghan civilians and kill them, the newspaper said. One soldier responded that it was a stupid idea, and another believed Gibbs was "feeling out the platoon."
But eventually, Gibbs formed what one called a "kill team" to randomly execute Afghan civilians while on patrol, the documents said. No motive was discussed.
Gibbs has denied any involvement in the killings.
All of the three who were killed were shot. Two were also hit with grenades in what has proved to be one of the most serious war-crimes cases to emerge from the Afghan war.
Anyone who dared to report the events was threatened with violence, investigators were told.
Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont., and Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, were charged in June with three counts each of premeditated murder and one count of assault, and they have emerged as central figures in the case. Morlock has made extensive statements to investigators -- statements that his attorney, Michael Waddington, said he hopes to have suppressed because they were made under the influence of prescription drugs taken for head injuries sustained in battle.
"Our position is that his statements were incoherent, and taken while he was under a cocktail of drugs that shouldn't have been mixed," Waddington said. "What he said is not consistent with other evidence that comes out of the case."
Three other soldiers were charged in June with one count of premeditated murder: Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, 19, of Boise, Idaho; Spc. Michael Wagnon II, 29, of Las Vegas, Nev.; and Spc. Adam Winfield, 21, of Cape Coral, Fla.
As of this week, the five face allegations of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. They each also face other charges, including drug use, striking another soldier, dereliction of duty, false statements and trying to impede an investigation.
All five are awaiting court martial and could face life in prison or death if convicted. They are assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The brigade, which made its first deployment to Afghanistan last summer, has seen heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents and suffered dozens of combat deaths.
The three civilians killed near the Army's Forward Operating Base Ramrod in southern Afghanistan were identified as Gul Mudin, killed in January; Marach Agha, killed Feb. 22; and Mullah Adahdad, killed May 2.
Morlock told investigators that to kill Mudin, he threw a grenade given to him by Gibbs over a low wall in a field. Holmes told investigators that Morlock then ordered him to fire over the wall, but he was unsure if he hit anyone. Holmes also said Morlock threatened his life if he told anyone, The Times reported.
Holmes' attorney, Daniel Conway, told The Times his client was not involved in the killings nor part of the inner circle that plotted crimes.
"We're eager to move forward with this process to show the world that Pfc. Holmes is a good 19-year-old kid with a big heart that was fighting a difficult war," Conway said.
Wagnon is accused of participating in the second killing and Winfield in the third.
Wagnon's attorney, Colby Vokey, said his client is innocent and has no knowledge of the killings. An attorney for Winfield did not immediately return an e-mail from the AP on Wednesday.
The seven newly charged 5th Stryker Brigade soldiers are Staff Sgt. Robert G. Stevens, Sgt. Darren N. Jones, Cpl. Emmitt R. Quintal, Staff Sgt. David B. Bram, Pvt. 1st Class Ashton A. Moore, Spc. Adam W. Kelly and Spc. Corey A. Moore. Their hometowns were not immediately available.