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Terrorism & Security

US soldier Morlock sentenced to 24 years for killing Afghan civilians

US Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock pleaded guilty to killing three Afghan civilians as part of a renegade 'kill team' made up of soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade.

By Nissa RheeCorrespondent / March 24, 2011

In this courtroom sketch made March 23, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, is shown during a court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of murder Wednesday in connection with the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in 2010.

Lois Silver/AP

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US Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock, one of 12 soldiers serving in Afghanistan who are under investigation for forming a “kill team” that secretly murdered Afghans, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.

The 22-year-old Army specialist pleaded guilty to murdering three unarmed Afghan civilians in what US military prosecutors called “acts of unspeakable cruelty.” The verdict comes just days after photos of Morlock posing with the corpse of an Afghan boy emerged, and has placed added pressure on the US military’s relationship with Afghan civilians.

Appearing before an extraordinary court-martial hearing at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Morlock admitted to plotting the kidnapping and murders of Afghan civilians. He described how the group of accused soldiers planted weapons at crime scenes to make the victims appear to be terrorists.

IN PICTURES: On base in Kandahar

When Judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks asked Specialist Morlock whether the soldiers were trying to kill people or merely scare them, his answer was unequivocal. “The plan was to kill people,” Morlock said, according to the BBC.

When the judge pressed further, asking, whether the soldiers knew that they were killing people that were completely innocent, Morlock replied, “Generally, yes, sir, everyone knew.”

The killings took place between January and March 2010. In one incident that came to light in the hearing, Morlock described randomly killing a civilian, reports Al Jazeera.

Morlock said the unit was in a village so that army leaders could meet with elders.

He and Private Holmes [another alleged member of the “kill team”] were on patrol when a man walked toward the two soldiers, who positioned themselves behind a waist-high wall.

Morlock tossed a grenade over the wall near himself and Holmes to make it appear as if the Afghan man had thrown it, and Holmes fired at the man with his machine gun.

In a plea bargain, Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count each of conspiracy, illegal drug use, and obstructing justice. Colonel Hawks said that he intended to sentence Morlock to life in prison, but since Morlock agreed to testify against his fellow soldiers, the sentence was reduced to 24 years in prison.

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