Soldiers charged with murdering three Afghan men are (from left) Andrew Holmes, Michael Wagnon, Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield.
FIVE US soldiers deliberately killed Afghan civilians with grenades before photographing the corpses and keeping body parts as trophies, say Pentagon investigators.
A 25-year-old sergeant, Calvin Gibbs, was the alleged ringleader, reportedly joking about how easy it would be to ''toss a grenade at someone and kill them'', US Army charge sheets have revealed.
The five soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men and forming a ''kill team''. After blowing up and shooting the Afghans, the soldiers allegedly took photos of the bodies before souveniring fingers, leg bones and a skull, later discovered among the soldiers' possessions.
Another seven soldiers face charges of helping to cover up the killings and over the bashing of a soldier who had blown the whistle on the rogue unit by reporting other abuses including the regular smoking of hashish stolen from civilians.
The troops belonged to a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province, where the killings occurred earlier this year.
The brigade, which has had dozens of combat deaths during its deployment, was operating within a Taliban stronghold where US command has been anxious to win the hearts and minds of the locals.
News of the killings emerged in May when the army investigated the bashing of a soldier who had reported the drug use to his superiors.
But the army charge documents released on Wednesday provide more details about the case.
Gibbs had threatened to kill the soldier if he continued with his complaints, further threatening him by showing him fingers cut from an Afghan corpse. The five soldiers have been detained since June at an army facility near Seattle, Washington.
CBS News on Wednesday described those involved in the killings as belonging to ''the platoon from hell'', equating the alleged crimes to the abuses by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in 2004 during the occupation of Iraq.
Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, told the network: ''This is the kind of thing that hurts us enormously. It will have a disproportionate effect, just like Abu Ghraib did. Just like any such incident. Just like the Koran burning would in Florida.''
Gibbs apparently started talking about targeting civilians in December, claiming it would be easy to commit such a crime undetected.
According to statements collected by investigators and first reported by The Seattle Times, one soldier responded that the idea was crazy. Another testified that he thought Gibbs was probably ''feeling out the platoon''.
But eventually, Gibbs formed what one called a ''kill team'' to execute at random Afghan civilians while on patrol. No motive was discussed.
His lawyer said Gibbs, from Billings, Montana, denied being part of any conspiracy and claimed the deaths were all ''appropriate engagements''.
Gibbs and Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, of Wasilla, Alaska, are charged with three counts each of premeditated murder and one count of assault. Three other soldiers face one count of murder each. All five face life in prison, or death, if convicted.
Morlock has made extensive statements to investigators but his lawyer is contesting their admissibility, claiming they were made under the influence of prescription drugs taken for head injuries sustained in battle.
The three Afghan civilians were killed near the army's Forward Operating Base Ramrod in southern Afghanistan.
Morlock told investigators that to kill one of the men, he had thrown a grenade given to him by Gibbs over a low wall in a field. Another soldier told investigators that Morlock then had ordered him to fire over the wall, but he was unsure if he hit anyone. The soldier also said Morlock had threatened his life if he told anyone.
The charges will be considered later this month by a military grand jury, which will decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial.