For months, the US Army kept the images compiled by the so-called “kill team” under lock and key out of fear it could result in a scandal even greater than Abu Ghraib. SPIEGEL TV spent weeks researching the story behind the men of 5th Stryker Brigade and how things could go so terribly wrong. Warning: The documentary contains extremely graphic content.
When Justin Stoner returned to Forward Operating Base Ramrod, hoping to settle into his room and get some rest, he could recognize the smell right away: hashish. Time and time again, he had asked his roommate in this remote outpost in Afghanistan not to do drugs, at least not in their room.
But this time Stoner had had enough. As he filed the complaint with his superior, he knew it would result in serious trouble. When, almost as an aside, he mentioned that his pot-smoking comrades would take revenge, and that they were capable and guilty of much more than smoking hashish, he set in motion an investigation that would lead to what would become the US Army’s next Abu Ghraib.
Weeks later, the Army arrested 12 men, some of whom would speak openly to investigators about their so-called ” kill team,” an inner circle of soldiers belonging to the 5th Stryker Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the state of Washington. Their alleged leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, is supposed to have instigated the murder of innocent civilians and to have collected fingers he cut off of the hands of dead Afghans as trophies.
As horrifying as it is, the Army was almost more worried about something else: The men of FOB Ramrod had been documenting their exploits and had taken thousands of pictures, including many of dead Afghans, as well as videos of legitimate but highly graphic engagements. Most troubling was the fact that they had posed with the dead, smiling and holding up their heads like hunters proud of their “kill.”
For months, the US Army has kept these troubling documents under lock and key. SPIEGEL TV’s Karin Assmann spent weeks alongside her colleagues from SPIEGEL magazine researching the story behind the men of the 5th Stryker Brigade, exploring why they had gone so horribly off course. In her film, Assmann documents the young soldiers’ transformation. She speaks with family members and tells the mens’ stories with the help of their video-taped interrogations and the use of hundreds of pages of internal files. Assmann reconstructs two of the three alleged murders using the very photos that the US Army has tried to suppress.