A soldier from a "rogue" U.S. army unit accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport goes on trial Wednesday, two days after grisly photos of troops posing with dead bodies were published.
One of three pictures published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel shows Jeremy Morlock smiling over the corpse of an Afghan man he allegedly murdered in southern Afghanistan.
News reports say Morlock has agreed to plead guilty at his court martial to his role as part of an allegedly drug-addled rogue unit that slaughtered Afghan civilians in the explosive Kandahar region early last year.
The photos, recalling the notorious Abu Ghraib prison abuse images from Iraq, show Morlock and another soldier -- Private Andrew Holmes, who also faces murder charges -- holding up the head of a blood-spattered corpse.
Under military procedures, if Morlock enters a guilty plea on Wednesday the hearing would immediately go to the sentencing phase. An attorney for Morlock did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The court martial has already been postponed once, but Army spokeswoman Major Kathleen Turner, speaking after the surprise publication of the photos, said Morlock is still scheduled to go before the court on Wednesday.
Soldier leads to others
Morlock is also the government’s star witness against four other soldiers accused over the execution of Afghan civilians -- in particular the alleged ring-leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin R. Gibbs.
Morlock led Army investigators to gruesome trophies allegedly taken from the bodies of civilians killed by members of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Division's Stryker brigade, based out of Fort Lewis, Washington.
At a pre-trial hearing for Holmes in November, Special Agent Benjamin Stevenson testified that, using a map drawn by Morlock, he was able to find severed fingers in a large protective barrier near where the soldiers lived.
How Der Spiegel obtained the photos is unclear, but the Army apologized on Monday for their appearance, saying the pictures were "repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army.
"We apologize for the distress these photos cause," said a U.S. Army statement.
But at least one person was glad to see the photos made public.
Holmes’s attorney, Dan Conway, has been fighting with the Army to obtain the photos so he can have an outside forensic investigator examine them.
Conway says his client is accused of killing the Afghan civilian in the photo with a machine gun, but the lawyer does not believe the photos show evidence that the body was hit by Holmes’s gun.
"I’m disappointed that I’ve practically begged the army to give these photos to me," Conway said by phone.
"Now I have to get this potentially exculpatory evidence from a German newspaper?"
Conway says Holmes "was ordered to be in the photos, so he got in the photos. But that does not make him a murderer."
Der Spiegel said the U.S. military tried to prevent the publication of the pictures, fearing a possible backlash against its troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
The well-respected magazine said it had researched the story of the so-called "Kill Team" for five months, and the three photos published Monday were from some 4,000 pictures and videos it had seen.