The Kill Team is a foggy journey into the heart of darkness
“The Kill Team”, while gruesome and shocking in visuals, only explores a very narrow scope of the broader picture director Dan Krauss, previously nominated for “The Death of Kevin Carter” (2004), is aiming to clarify. The horrifying story of the U.S. Army platoon of infantry soldiers that were reported in 2010 of killing Afghan civilians for sport is well known by much of the American population.
The visually piercing documentary won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival, the International Documentary Association and the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2013.
The documentary shares its name with a Rolling Stone article written by Mark Boal published in March of 2011 explaining in detail how a group of infantrymen went from talking about killing an Afghan civilian to murdering three and taking souvenirs of their victims.
In total, the group collectively murdered three civilians, whether they had a physical hand in the action, watched or ignored the instances. The first was a 15-year-old boy farming in a poppy field, the second was a mentally ill older man walking on a road, and the third was a young, local Islamic mullah. Usually one to three members of the platoon partook in the murders and a weapon was dropped at the victim’s side to make the attack look like justifiable defense.
Civilians of the villages accused the soldiers of murder and demanded retribution, but were ignored by the higher officers. There were members within the platoon that heard a specific few talking about murdering civilians and how they would do it, including Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibs, Staff Sergeant David Bram, U.S. Army Corporal Jeremy Morlock, and Private First Class Andrew Holmes.
A whistleblower within the platoon later charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy, Specialist Adam Winfield, attempted to alert the Army of these crimes. His pleas went on unheard until the squad was uncovered doing illegal drugs.
It wasn’t until the Army caught wind that the infantry was smoking Afghan hash that details about these heinous crimes spilled out all at once.
The idea of Krauss’s documentary, specifically understood from its trailer, suggested an investigation into the question that would haunt anyone who heard about the story; How could this have happened?
Unfortunately, it appears that Krauss traversed down a common path for documentary filmmakers and became too closely attached to the subject he was studying. Instead of diving farther into reasons as to how these murders were permitted to take place, Krauss dedicated 79 minutes to vindicating the whistleblower Winfield who was unfairly trapped by his circumstances.
This is not to say that Winfield’s situation in his platoon wasn’t a living nightmare.
It sounded like endless fun with sunny side of the street Sgt. Calvin Gibbs leading every evening’s craft circle with DIY tips on making bone-necklaces out of your victims’ fingers.
I’m sure it was exactly what Winfield expected Army camp to be when he frolicked on a train to training at the young age of 19.
All of this aside, Winfield, his mother, and even another infantry member later charged with premeditated murder Jeremy Morlock, repeatedly said, these soldiers accused are pawns. And they’re absolutely right.
In the trials of the Maywand District murders, no officers were tried. No one above a staff sergeant was accused. I’m sure that doesn’t seem a bit off. That these troops of infantrymen were roaming around these arid regions of Afghanistan completely secluded and unmonitored with supposedly useful missions armed with AK-47’s and M4 carbines. No wonder a “Lord of Flies” situation arose, and it's also of no surprise that similar murders have taken place in other platoons stationed in Afghanistan. Private 1st Class Justin Stoner, acquitted of any charges and honorably discharged from the Army, said he’s heard of similar instances, but that they were the only ones who were caught.
So what do you think needs more examination? The whistleblower? Or the American mission in Afghanistan as a whole and the men running it?
The film was well shot; Krauss us to the fields where the murders took place; he interviewed infantry members who rationalized murder and dehumanization in the name of war. All of this was well done and highly shocking when paired with pictures of the men smiling next to their victims, holding their heads up like they caught a ten-pound bass.
The images literally took your breath away.
However, it is clear that these images and stories like those of the 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 2st Infantry Regiment are a symptom of a bigger disease.
Krauss barely scratched at the surface of a highly controversial issue that desperately needs a pair of balls for a thorough investigation into top circle conspiracy and gross negligence among other things.