Soldier from Cape Coral charged in Afghan killing kept in solitary
GENE JOHNSON,Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — The soldier who tried to blow the whistle on an alleged plot to kill Afghan civilians for sport has been put in solitary confinement in a windowless cell for 23 hours a day, his family said.
The father of Spc. Adam Winfield is objecting to the conditions at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, and wants the soldier moved to a different facility.
Christopher Winfield said his son was separated from other defendants in the case about a month ago after he reported being threatened by one of them. He’s been in protective solitary custody since then, but conditions grew markedly worse last week when he was moved from a cell with access to a common area and television to one he’s locked in nearly all the time, his father said.
Base spokeswoman Maj. Jenny Willis said she could not discuss specifics of Winfield’s pretrial confinement, but said he is being treated humanely and that “everything that’s been done has been for his security and his safety.”
Spc. Winfield, 22, is one of five soldiers charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in what prosecutors describe as random attacks on Afghan civilians during patrols in January, February and May. The charges are among the most gruesome to emerge from the Afghan war, with allegations that some in the unit collected fingers from Afghan corpses as war trophies.
After the first killing, Winfield sent troubled Facebook messages home to his parents, telling them that soldiers in his unit had deliberately killed one civilian — “some innocent guy about my age just farming” — and planned to kill more. He told his family he was being threatened to keep quiet about the plot.
His father made several calls from the family’s home in Cape Coral, Fla., to military officials at Lewis-McChord after receiving the messages and said he begged them to intervene. His phone records reflect the calls, including a 12-minute conversation with someone at the base’s incident command center.
The Army says it’s investigating how Chris Winfield’s phone calls were handled.
Winfield has been detained in Washington since his arrest in May, but previously had library privileges, a television and access to a common area he shared with no one else, his father said.
The detention facility last week moved Winfield into another 8-foot-by-10-foot cell to make room for someone who had been convicted in an unrelated case, Winfield’s father said. Chris Winfield said his son told him in a phone call that he now has no TV and is allowed out for 40 minutes of exercise and a shower daily. Every few days he can get new books from the library.
Three of the other defendants are in general population custody at military facilities in Washington, and the alleged ringleader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, is being held at a nearby civilian jail to keep him separate from the other defendants.
Winfield said he’s concerned about his son’s psychological health and would prefer to see him placed in the general population at another facility. Spc. Winfield has also petitioned to return to general population at Lewis-McChord, where he would be back with the co-defendant who allegedly threatened him.
“If he’s going to sit in solitary for six months or a year waiting for trial, that’s just unacceptable,” he said.
Spc. Winfield is accused of taking part in the final killing and admitted to investigators in a videotaped statement that he shot as Gibbs threw a grenade at the alleged victim.
Winfield told investigators he feared Gibbs might kill him if he didn’t take part.
“I took a man from his family,” he said. “I don’t know if it was my bullets that killed him or the grenade that killed him, but I was still part of it.”
Gibbs insists that all three killings were appropriate engagements.
Upon arrival at Lewis-McChord, Winfield was initially detained with two other defendants — Pfc. Andrew Holmes and Spc. Michael Wagnon. They had individual cells but access to a common area, and they could speak with each other and with other detainees as long as they did not discuss their case.
Gibbs and another defendant in the civilian killings, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, were housed separately.
In Winfield’s interrogation video, he named Holmes as a participant in one killing and said he had seen Holmes with a finger he claimed to have cut from an Afghan corpse.
About a month ago, around the time of the first hearing in the case, Holmes allegedly told Winfield, “By the power of Christ you will not mention me at your hearing.” Winfield reported it, prompting his voluntary separation from the others.
Holmes’ attorney, Daniel Conway, said he does not believe he client made a threat and has not been charged with doing so.
“We’re looking closely at (Winfield’s) motives for making that allegation,” he said.
Winfield’s attorney, Eric Montalvo, said he is trying to have his client moved to a detention facility on the East Coast, where his lawyers and family are.
“We want him on the East Coast so we can have better access to him and get him away from these knuckleheads,” Montalvo said.