“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” - Ernest Hemingway
Have you heard of Jeremy Morlock? He is an unfortunate 22-year-old American soldier who was found guilty in a court martial on the 23rd of March 2011, for his reprehensible actions while part of a “rogue killing squad” that murdered unarmed Afghan men between January and May in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was sentenced to 24 years in gaol The judge, Lt Col Kwasi Hawks, said he had intended to sentence Morlock to life in prison with the possibility of parole but had been bound by a plea bargain under which Morlock would be sentenced to a maximum of 24 years in prison in return for testifying against his comrades.
Morlock pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count each of illegal drug use, conspiracy and obstructing justice. He told the court that the killings were planned in late 2009, and that he and his comrades had conspired to plant weapons on the corpses to make the killings appear justified. Morlock admitted that he and his fellow-soldiers were killing people who were completely innocent. He said the murder plot was led by the unit’s leader, Staff Sgt Calvin Gibbs, who is also charged in the killings but who maintained the killings were justified.
These proceedings came two days after German magazine “Der Spiegel” published photographs showing US soldiers grinning over the corpses of Afghan civilians they had allegedly killed. In addition to Staff Sgt Gibbs, charged in the murders are Pte First Class Andrew Holmes, Spc Michael Wagnon and Spc Adam Winfield. Other soldiers are accused of dismembering the victims and collecting body parts in a grisly trophy hunt. The photos published by Der Spiegel were said to be among many seized by US Army investigators.
Morlock perhaps was typical of his generation, being brought up in uncertain times and having few options in terms of a job or prospects, given his underachieving school career. He was originally from Wasilla, Alaska, and he enlisted in 2006 after stopping his high school studies at 19 years of age. When he was training in boot camp, he was homesick and often became depressed. His condition deteriorated after his father’s death by drowning in 2007.
Two years later, while on combat duty in Afghanistan he suffered a concussion. There are letters to his mother, which indicate that he was not sleeping well and may have been traumatised. He was prescribed over ten different medications (including painkillers, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills), so the medical doctors treating him knew that something was seriously wrong. The big question at this stage is where is the duty of care shown to their patient by these doctors? Why wasn’t he sent home as he should have so that he could recover? He needed his family, and close to his mother he could perhaps have overcome his father’s death and put back together the broken pieces of his life.
Instead, Morlock stayed on in Afghanistan and began to become habituated to the local hashish, diagnosed by his doctors as cannabis dependence, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), post-concussive disorder, and a slew of other psychological disturbances. The soldier was still not sent home and he continued to serve actively in combat duty. Is it surprising that this young man with a multitude of psychological problems, heavily medicated and addicted to cannabis became involved in the plot to kill Afghan innocent civilians?
Who is the real guilty party here? Morlock or his doctors? Morlock or his military leaders? Morlock or the government that sent him thousands of kilometres away from home to fight an invisible and ever elusive enemy? Morlock’s brief was to kill terrorists and enemies of democracy. In the dark every cat is gray. In Morlock’s blackest hour is it surprising that every turban-wearing Afghan became a terrorist threat and easily accessible target to shoot at? In his hashish-addled mind was it so difficult to transform the heinous acts he was committing to glorious and heroic deeds? Perhaps he was a sad victim of circumstances, a pitiful casualty of the bewildering war he was sent to fight. Morlock committed acts of extreme barbarity and inhuman savagery. As a society we condemned him as we would a rational human being that committed these acts in full possession of his faculties. But was this a sane, rational man who possessed his faculties and thought through his actions?
The judges thought he was. Morlock admitted that he was aware that he and his comrades-in-arms were shooting innocent civilians. The brutality of the callous acts was magnified when every detail of the slaying was immortalised on video and film and the savage cries of triumph were recorded for posterity. In their minds, these soldiers were on a holy mission for their country, for democracy and freedom, fighting against terrorism and communism and everything un-American. The results of their actions were that some poor innocent Afghan wretches did not return to their family that night and their wives and children had to weep over their bloody and mutilated bodies.
What society can look at its actions and forgive itself the wrongs that it meted out to Morlock and his comrades? What society can forgive itself for the killings perpetrated by Morlock and every other soldier like Morlock on a phantom battlefield, fighting ghostly enemies, jousting at windmills because they viewed them as ogres? What society can forgive itself when it commits these acts of barbarity in the name of freedom and democracy? By what strange delusion can such a society masquerade cruel and calculated acts that serve its economy as idealistic and kind acts of liberation? The answer is the same society that absolves itself by sacrificing scapegoats like Morlock. The same society that creates monsters in order to send out posses to destroy them in self-righteous rage…