Whistle-blower in Afghan probe pleads guilty

AP News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2011 12:05 AM
Whistle-blower in Afghan probe pleads guilty

A soldier who tried to blow the whistle on a plot to murder Afghan civilians pleaded guilty at his court-martial Friday to a charge of involuntary manslaughter in one man's death.

Spc. Adam Winfield of Cape Coral, Fla., is the second soldier to admit to participating in what the Army has characterized as an Afghan "kill team."

Winfield, 23, pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to involuntary manslaughter and to smoking hashish. The News Tribune of Tacoma reports (http://bit.ly/plPGOo) that military judge Col. David Conn sentenced him to three years in prison, demotion to private and a bad-conduct discharge. He has already spent a year in custody. He had earlier been charged with premeditated murder and could have faced life in prison.

Winfield was one of five 5th Stryker Brigade soldiers accused in the three civilian deaths during patrols last year in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. The soldiers are accused of faking combat scenarios to cover the killings.

The newspaper reported that on May 2, 2010, Winfield and another soldier, Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, fired at an Afghan after Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who has been portrayed by the Army as the ringleader, tossed a grenade toward the man.

Winfield didn't admit to killing the Afghan. The charge stems from Winfield's failure to intervene and prevent the other soldiers from carrying out the attack against the Afghan in U.S. custody.

"It was my job to do that, sir, and I failed to do that, sir," Winfield told the judge.

Winfield admitted he fired his heavy weapon in the direction of the Afghan but only to deceive Gibbs. He said he feared Gibbs because the squad leader had threatened him if he alerted authorities about the civilian killings.

Still, Winfield said he didn't have an immediate fear for his life or serious bodily harm if he had refused to participate in the killing. He also told the judge he knew his squad leader's instruction to fire on the Afghan man was an unlawful order.

Winfield said he could have raised doubts to dissuade Gibbs from carrying out the attack, yelled for help or walked away.

Winfield will testify as a prosecution witness against the remaining defendants.

Gibbs's court-martial is scheduled in October.

Morlock was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three murders.

After Winfield learned about the first killing, he sent Facebook messages home to his family expressing his disgust, and told them he was being pressured to join the plot. His father called Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Winfield's unit is based, but the Army took no action until months later when investigators heard about the plot from someone else.

"Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it," he wrote his parents after the first killing. "There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday."

Winfield's father told the AP last fall that his son had tried to blow the whistle on the plot, and the story prompted an Army investigation into the way the warning was handled. The sergeant at Lewis-McChord who took the call told the investigators he didn't report the call up the chain of command because there was no standard operating procedure for doing so.

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com