Parent of accused soldier says he warned Army officials about alleged war crimes
The father of a Western Washington-based soldier is stunned that his son, after trying to blow the whistle on squad members for the murder of an Afghan farmer and plans to kill more civilians, ended up accused of one of the killings. Christopher Winfield says his son, Adam, is innocent, and would never have been in the situation if the warnings he says he passed along to the Army were investigated.
Seattle Times staff reporter
On Feb. 14, Christopher Winfield had a chilling Internet chat with his son, Spc. Adam Winfield, who said members of his squad in Afghanistan had "mowed down" an innocent farmer, and were planning to carry out more such murders.
Although it was a Sunday, the elder Winfield, a former Marine from Cape Coral, Fla., quickly got on the phone to sound an early alert about what now is alleged to be one of the most serious U.S. war-crimes cases of the 9-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Winfield left several voice mails with Army officials. He also spoke for 12 minutes with an Army official at a 24-hour staffed command center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to phone records and a sworn statement he would provide on May 20 to Army investigators.
As first reported Thursday by The Associated Press, Winfield said those voice-mail messages were never returned and he was brushed off by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord official.
That Joint Base Lewis-McChord official was shocked but " told me that unless Adam comes forward over there that there was nothing he could do until Adam got back to Fort Lewis," Christopher Winfield said in a sworn statement.
No word of the February allegations ever appears to have been relayed to Afghanistan, where Winfield and other unit soldiers were under the command of the 5th Brigade 2nd Infantry Division, which was deployed in the Kandahar area with Stryker vehicles.
It was not until May that Army officials say they had information about what is now alleged to have been a series of crimes, including the murders of three civilians, committed by a dozen soldiers from a Lewis-McChord-based Stryker Brigade.
One of these murders was alleged to have been carried out before the Feb. 14 calls, and two at a later date. "It was a complete and utter breakdown," said Eric Montalvo, an attorney who now represents Spc. Winfield. "The dad was frantic, and was trying to save his son. The Army just sat on this, and ignored it."
Army officials said they could not comment on whether they received tips from Christopher Winfield. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told The Associated Press Thursday he had no information about the man's claim.
"That's disheartening to hear if that is indeed the case," he said. "If someone is trying to reach out, trying to notify us, trying to head off a potential problem, that's something we need to pay attention to and heed that warning."
Christopher Winfield's phone records from Feb. 14 also show a brief one-minute phone call to the Tallahassee office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. The office was closed that day and a spokesman for Nelson said they have no record of the message.
Five Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers are charged with participating in one or more of the three murders. Spc. Winfield is accused of assisting in the final murder in May, along with Staff. Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., and Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska.
The elder Winfield told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that his son is innocent and never would have been in the situation if warnings he says he passed along to the Army were investigated.
He was stunned that his son, after first trying to blow the whistle on crimes, ended up accused of murder.
During a May 20 meeting with Army criminal investigators, Christopher Winfield provided a printout of his Feb. 14 Internet chat with his son. In that chat, Adam Winfield talks about an initial killing where soldiers made it look like the Afghan farmer had thrown a grenade to justify the killing.
In e-mails, he expresses dismay at his squad leader, Gibbs, who "gives high-fives to the guy who kills innocent people and plans more with him," and writes: "I have proof that they are planning another one in the form an AK-47 (machine gun) they want to drop on another guy."
The day after the chat, Christopher Winfield said, his son sent him an e-mail asking to hold off any more calls to Army officials, according to his statement.
The son said he was worried that it would get back to the unit before the crimes could be investigated, putting him at risk.
So Christopher Winfield said he backed off from attempts to contact Army officials.
The investigation would eventually begin in early May after a soldier beaten up for informing about hashish smoking spoke to investigators about alleged murders.
In the months ahead, the Army will hold hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with court-martial proceedings against the defendants.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or email@example.com. Seattle Times researcher David Turim also contributed to this report.
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