Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Kill Team

Documentarian Dan Krauss' superb "The Kill Team" would make an apt double feature with Kirby Dick's four-star 2012 doc "The Invisible War," about the ways in which the chain of command and military justice system fail women victims of sexual harassment and assault.

This new film shows us another side of the military code of silence, the pervasive "snitches get stitches" mentality that thwarts whistleblowers from reporting illegal and improper conduct.

A platoon of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan at the end of the last decade would become known in the media as "the kill team" after some of them (soldiers Andrew Holmes and Jeremy Morlock, at the behest of commander Calvin Gibbs) killed, on separate occasions, three innocent civilians and planted weapons beside their corpses to give the semblance of legitimate combat operations. Krauss focuses on their comrade, Private Adam Winfield.

Winfield was shocked upon witnessing the first two murders and the approval with which they were met within the troop. Going up the chain of command would mean starting with Gibbs himself. He reported them to his father, Christopher, himself a former soldier, who tried to relay them to anyone in the Army who might be able to intercede. Winfield became increasingly distraught as he realized nothing would come of these crimes.

He steeled himself to survive the last two months of his tour, then found himself caught in the third situation and froze. What happened next is a matter of "Rashomon"-esque perspective, but it ended with Winfield lumped with the others and charged with murder. Krauss' juxtapositions of photographs of a beautiful young man who dreamt of being a model soldier like his dad with a handcuffed, blank-faced, nearly catatonic man awaiting trial are impossible to forget. Interviews with Winfield's inconsolable mother and guilt-stricken father pour salt in the wound.

Beyond outrage over Winfield's fate, "The Kill Team" paints an elegiac picture of a U.S. military that's no longer a place for good men and women to make their careers, that's lost its pride, its identity, and its moral compass.

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