‘The Kill Team’: When Your Squad Murders Civilians, What’s a Soldier to Do?

Army specialist Adam Winfield blew the whistle on U.S. troops killing Afghan civilians for sport, and was charged with murder for his trouble.

Specialist Adam Winfield stares out a window and toward a potential prison stretch after bringing attention to murders of Afghan civilians perpetrated by his squadron in The Kill Team. (Photo: Courtesy of Motto Pictures)

Apr 26, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

Dan Krauss, director of the new documentary movie, The Kill Team, was reading the New York Times Magazine one morning when he came across a description he just couldn’t shake of Adam Winfield, an American soldier who was accused of being both a murder suspect and a whistleblower in the deaths of innocent Afghans while deployed overseas.

“The division between those two roles couldn’t have been more stark. To have them both apply to the same person was, to me, mysterious,” Krauss tells TakePart. “I wanted to get to the bottom of that mystery.”

Krauss does his best to reconcile the incompatible facts in The Kill Team. The documentary premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and tries to uncover what really happened in Winfield’s platoon, which observers agree, was responsible for taking the lives of Afghan civilians for sport.

Winfield, a 20-year-old from a military family, grew uncomfortable believing such acts were being perpetrated by his fellow soldiers. When it appeared he was about to make his concerns known to his superiors, the film indicates, Winfield was pressured into joining a team for one of its off-the-books kills.

Winfield’s unit is presumed to have committed heinous crimes. Beyond that awful violence, The Kill Team exposes a sort of institutional atrocity. Winfield’s case travels through a military justice system that includes no party independent of the armed services to evaluate his case. Much like last year’s The Invisible War, the system seems to serve as a tool of retribution wielded against enlisted personnel who dare to accuse the military of harboring wrongdoers.

“Some people refer to it as kind of a rigged game,” says Krauss. Anecdotally, the director has been told that military prosecutors have a 90 percent conviction rate. “That might be a little bit of a dramatic description, but there is certainly an element of that present in a system. Everything from the criminal investigation on through the judicial process itself in the courtroom is controlled by the military.”

“I would like people to think more deeply about the complexity of decisions that young men and women are forced to make in war.”

While Adam Winfield faced a moral dilemma in voicing suspicions about fellow soldiers in his squad, Krauss had an ethical quandry when it came to making The Kill Team.

Access to the military world is limited. Krauss found his way in after learning that Winfield’s defense attorney needed someone to film his client’s testimony. Although the resultant documentary lays out the particulars of Winfield’s case in an impartial way, Krauss was placed in the position of doing a favor for the defense in order to gain its trust.

“The decision was either I flirt with this ethical boundary, and try my best to stay on the right side of it, or give up the story completely and not take the risk,” Krauss says. He maintains that in retaining ownership over the footage to edit as he saw fit, he never felt compromised.

The risk paid off. The Kill Team offers a rare, clear-eyed view into a shadowy process that few Americans know about, and into crimes they’d rather not know about at all. If Krauss has his way, more consideration will be given to the souls of young recruits being sent off to fight on our behalf.

“I would like people to think more deeply about the complexity of decisions that young men and women are forced to make in war,” says Krauss. “Sometimes in the blink of an eye, very young men and women are being asked to make decisions that have no clear path to a positive conclusion and, in the worst case, carry the most severe consequences for human life. From a distance, I think people understand this in a general way. To actually hear soldiers talk about it and delineate these decisions in all their complexity is very troubling.”

Is it right to charge soldiers sent to a kill zone with murder? Explore the ramifications in COMMENTS.