The father of a US soldier serving in Afghanistan says he tried nearly a half dozen times to pass an urgent message from his son to the Army: Troops in his unit had murdered an Afghan civilian, planned more killings and threatened him to keep quiet about it.
By the time officials arrested suspects months later, two more Afghans were dead and much to Christopher Winfield's horror, his son Adam was among the five Fort Lewis-based soldiers charged in the killings.
The elder Winfield said his son did not kill the unarmed man and would never have been in the situation if the Army had investigated the warnings he says he passed along to Fort Lewis.
An Army spokeswoman at the base said she could not comment on whether they received such a tip or if so, whether it was acted on. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said 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."
The new details about Mr Winfield's efforts to alert the Army and his son's pleas raised questions about the Army's handling of the case and its system for allowing soldiers to report misconduct by their colleagues. The soldiers have been accused of conspiracy and premeditated murder in a case marked by grisly details.
The highest-ranking is Staff Sgt Calvin Gibbs, who, along with Cpl Jeremy Morlock, is accused of taking part in all three killings. Gibbs collected fingers and other body parts from Afghan corpses, slaughtered animals indiscriminately and hoarded illicitly obtained weapons he could drop near civilian bodies to make them appear to be combatants, according to charges filed by Army prosecutors and statements soldiers in the platoon made to investigators.
Pfc. Andrew Holmes is charged with murder in the first killing, and Spc. Michael Wagnon is charged in another. Both deny the charges. Winfield is charged with murder in the final killing, and his attorney, Eric Montalvo, insists he was ordered to shoot after Gibbs hit the civilian with a grenade. Winfield deliberately shot high and missed, he said.
Gibbs has denied the charges. His attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, said his client maintains that the shootings were "appropriate engagements" and denies involvement in any conspiracy to kill civilians.
The soldiers, all assigned to the 5th Stryker Brigade, deployed in July 2009 and were stationed at a base in Kandahar Province.