Arguably war could be described as a society’s collective sociopathy, realized by its military. In director Dan Krauss’ powerful documentary, “The Kill Team,” one of the very young soldiers, an eager participant in atrocities committed by his platoon in Afghanistan, Corporal Jeremy Morlock says, “It was impossible not to surrender to the insanity.”
With extraordinary access (and boundless empathy), Krauss tells two parallel stories–about the horrific violence against civilians and the subsequent trials–focusing on Specialist Adam Winfield, who enlisted in the Infantry in 2009 and “was proud to wear the uniform.” But was unaware that his service would bring him to a place where his conscience and will to survive would do battle.
In November 2009, after the platoon’s sergeant lost his leg to an IED, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs (rumored to have faked “good shoots” against Iraqis and to possess a necklace of souvenir human fingers) replaced him. Gibbs quickly sensed his soldiers’ frustration, anger, fear and boredom. They had expected “climbing mountains and firefights everyday, not visiting old dudes” (mullahs) and resented doing work like building wells. Private First Class Justin Stoner says the war was “not the way everyone hyped it and that’s probably why things happened.”
Aware that platoon members led by Gibbs had killed noncombatants and placed drop weapons, proudly becoming “made men,” Winfield messaged his father (a former Marine) who unsuccessfully tried to contact the military and politicians.
Krauss says, “You learn quickly that if you want to get out of there alive, you must be part of the group. To step out of the group, to be an individual, is dangerous, as Adam learned.” On May 2, 2010, having perceived Winfield as a threat, Gibbs involved him in an attack and Winfield knowing that the sergeant would kill him if he intervened chose to save his own life rather than to defend an Afghan civilian, Mullah Allah Dad.
Weeks later Winfield was flown back to Fort Lewis (Washington state) and charged with “the kill team,” Gibbs, Morlock, and Private Class Andrew Holmes. Winfield eventually accepted a plea deal carrying a charge of “involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent his fellow soldiers from committing murder” and was sentenced to three years with a bad conduct discharge.
Although other members of the 5th Stryker Brigade knew about “the kill team,” it was an investigation into a beating suffered by Stoner (“snitches get stitches”) after he reported hashish use that led to the discovery of the atrocities. Credited as a whistleblower (and honorably discharged) he adamantly brushes off the label and says that he’d rather be seen as just a member of the platoon and expressing the odd morality of war, questions, “We’re trained to kill so why are you pissed when we do it?”
“The Kill Team” will open for a one-week run on Friday, July 27 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center with a Q&A with Dan Krauss at 7:15 pm screening on Friday, July 25 (moderated by Mark Boal) and Saturday, July 26.