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The World

March 24, 2011

US soldier gets 24 years for murders of 3 Afghans

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — A U.S. soldier who pleaded guilty in the killings of three Afghan civilians has agreed to testify against four others whom he says were co-conspirators in a case that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the Afghanistan War.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who was accused of taking a leading role in the killings last year, was sentenced to 24 years in prison Wednesday, the maximum sentence under a plea deal that also calls for him to testify against his co-defendants. He pleaded guilty hours before his sentencing to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use.

His voice shaking at times, Morlock told a judge he had a lot of time to reflect on his actions in Afghanistan and ask himself "how I could become so insensitive and how I lost my moral compass."

"I don't know if I will ever be able to answer those questions," he said, adding that he believes he "wasn't fully prepared for the reality of war as it was being fought in Afghanistan."

Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, was the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to be court-martialed — something his lawyer Geoffrey Nathan characterized as an advantage.

Army prosecutor Capt. Andre Leblanc characterized the crimes as acts of "unspeakable cruelty" by "a few extraordinarily misguided men."

"We don't do this. This is not how we're trained. This is not the Army," Leblanc said during his closing statement Wednesday.

Morlock told military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks that he and the other soldiers first began plotting to murder unarmed Afghans in late 2009, several weeks before the first killing took place in January 2010 in Kandahar province. Two others were killed the following February and May.

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