U.S. Soldiers Charged in Afghan Civilian Murders

Five American soldiers are accused of murdering Afghan civilians.

Updated at 8:24 p.m. ET

Gen. David Petraeus has said the United States can't succeed in Afghanistan without winning the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians.

Now, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, there's a disturbing development in a story first reported in May involving U.S. soldiers accused of killing civilians in cold blood.

Twelve soldiers have been charged in the case. If the charges are proven, this was the platoon from hell.

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Five American soldiers accused of murdering Afghan civilians just because they could, seven more involved in the cover-up; plus mutilating corpses, taking pot shots at Afghan civilians, smoking hashish, and beating up a private who blew the whistle.

They may have done more harm to the American cause in Afghanistan than any equivalent number of Taliban could hope to cause.

"This is the kind of thing that hurts us enormously," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. "It will have a disproportionate effect, just like Abu Ghraib did. Just like any such incident. Just like the Quran burning would in Florida."

The soldiers were operating in the Taliban heartland near Kandahar where they were supposed to be winning hearts and minds. According to court documents, it began when Sgt. Calvin Gibbs joked about how easy it would be "toss a grenade at someone and kill them."

It turned into a conspiracy when five soldiers allegedly formed a "kill team" and on separate occasions murdered three Afghan civilians, apparently chosen at random.

Defense attorneys intend to fight the charges -- but whatever the outcome of the court case the damage in Afghanistan has already been done.

Charges against the soldiers:

Winfield Charge Sheet
Quintal Charge Sheet
Corey Moore Charge Sheet
Ashton Moore Charge Sheet
Wagnon Charge Sheet
Stevens Charge Sheet
Kelly Charge Sheet
Holmes Charge Sheet
Bram Charge Sheet
Morlock Charge Sheet
Jones Charge Sheet

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.