TIME’s Jim Frederick, who wrote a book about the desperate brutality of one ground-down platoon of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, reads into the emerging case of Spc. Jeremy Morlock and the group of young men from the 5th Stryker Brigade who allegedly hunted down and murdered Afghan civilians. Why it’s different this time:
The extent and length of the conspiracy: Although the platoon I chronicle in Black Hearts became “combat ineffective” within months of its arrival in Iraq, and a small handful of the members were sending warning sign after warning sign that they were a threat to civilians, the heinous rape-murder plan was concocted over one long day during which three or four unsupervised soldiers with access to alcohol dreamed up the plan, carried it out, and then conspired to keep the truth among themselves and one or two additional soldiers. In the Kill Team case, it appears that a much wider group of soldiers (as many as 12 have been charged with some type of crime) were aware of, if not abettors or participants in, at least four separate murders that spanned four months. According to one soldier quoted in an Army investigation, “pretty much the whole platoon” knew about the murders.
The complicity of the chain of command: In Black Hearts, the unit’s leadership may have been dysfunctional, but once it became aware that U.S. soldiers might be involved in a crime, it moved swiftly to investigate the matter. If the Rolling Stone account is accurate, the Kill Team’s superiors never seriously investigated any of the unit’s suspicious kills, even when confronted with direct accusations by Afghans and the father of one U.S. soldier whose son had confided in him.