A US soldier who allegedly killed 3 Afghan civilians for fun was “not a monster” but a drug-addled victim naive about what he was saying, his lawyer has said.
The defense came as US army chiefs heard pre-trial testimony about the killings, which could prove an explosive case for the US military.
But the first day of hearings, which focused on Specialist Jeremy Morlock, one of a group of accused soldiers, stalled amid a decision by several witnesses and three of the accused to invoke their right to remain silent.
Authorities say five of the 12 troops on trial opened fire on Afghan civilians in unprovoked assaults over several months in southern Kandahar province, with the rest accused of dismembering bodies and removing bones.
Monday’s hearing, opened by investigation leader Colonel Thomas Molloy, focused on Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska.
The 22-year-old, who appeared in court with bags under his eyes but looking younger than his years, faces charges of premeditated murder over the deaths of three Afghans killed between January and May this year.
Morlock is one of 5 soldiers charged with murder in the case; seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation. They also facing charges of using hashish and severely beating a comrade who blew the whistle.
In a potential wrinkle for the case, prosecutors said Monday that more than 10 key witnesses — three of them accused soldiers — had decided to invoke their right to refuse to testify.
As a result, Monday’s session focused on testimony from officers who led the investigation last May and interrogated Morlock.
Special Agent Shannon Richey, testifying by telephone from Afghanistan, said Morlock admitted during questioning that he participated in several situations in which civilians were killed.
But Morlock’s lawyer Michael Waddington argued that his young client was on medication during the questioning.
“Instead of treating him (Jeremy Morlock), they doped him up,” he told reporters.
He said Morlock began taking the medication in November 2009.
“The prescription drugs were provided by the army. So he was under the influence of drugs throughout the whole story, until the day he got back here.
“He’s a good kid, he’s a young man, he’s very impressionable, he’s naive, he comes from a small town in Alaska, he is suggestible.
“He’s not a monster, he’s not a sociopath, he’s not a psychopath.”
The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division’s Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.
The military hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma in Washington state, will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, with more hearings due in coming weeks for the other soldiers.
The case could have explosive ramifications for the war effort as US-led forces try to win over local Afghans and counter Taliban insurgents in the pivotal Kandahar battlefield.
The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones they say some men took were from the bodies of slain civilians.
US officials acknowledge they are concerned about the fallout from the case, which threatens to undermine efforts by the American military to secure the confidence of wary Afghans.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said earlier this month that the charges represented “an aberration” for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.