Afghan Killings: Troubled History of American Base

Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord accused of litany of deadly crimes.

ByABC News
March 12, 2012, 12:12 PM

March 12, 2012 — -- intro: A veteran American soldier has been accused of carrying out one of the most heinous crimes in the decade-long Afghan war: the apparently unprovoked systemic slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children. Though the soldier's name has not been released, military officials said he is a 38-year-old staff sergeant based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

As authorities investigate the circumstances of the deaths, international attention has turned to Lewis-McChord, a military base with a troubled and bloody history.

From assaults on American authorities in the U.S. to the "thrill killing" of other Afghan civilians, here are some of the most infamous incidents involving soldiers hailing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in just the last three years.

Martha Raddatz, Muhammad Lila, Sarah Netter and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.

quicklist: 1title: Stryker Brigade 'Thrill Kills'text: In September 2010, ABC News obtained a video of 22-year-old Corporal Jeremy Morlock casually telling military investigators how his unit's "crazy" sergeant, Calvin Gibbs, hatched a plan to murder innocent Afghan civilians and then make them look like combatants.

"He just really doesn't have any problems with f---ing killing these people," Morlock told military investigators during an interview videotaped at Kandahar Airfield in May 2010 after a spate of incidents.

WATCH: US Soldier Describes Thrill Kill of Innocent Afghans

Gibbs, along with a handful of soldiers from the 5th Combat Stryker Brigade based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, were arrested and charged in connection to three murders as well as the taking of "trophy" photographs of the dead and severing body parts for souvenirs. Three soldiers pleaded guilty and testified against Gibbs, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the directing the 15904423

quicklist: 2title: PTSD Diagnosis Scandaltext: Last month, the Army opened an investigation into whether soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were being properly diagnosed as victims of illness.

The allegations have forced the removal of one top Army commander on the base who was in charge of the base's health care system and has led to the re-evaluation of 14 soldiers' diagnoses, according to ABC News' Seattle affiliate KOMO.

One of those soldiers, Army Spec. Jared Enger, told KOMO that he had nightmares about what he saw when he served in Iraq. "Images [would] pop up of dead bodies," said Enger, who had his PTSD diagnosis reconfirmed.

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quicklist: 3title: Soldier Kills Park Rangertext: In January 2012, a soldier who had been stationed at Fort Lewis before being discharged over a DUI and weapons charge shot and killed a park ranger after opening fire at a house party. Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was apparently fleeing the shooting at a New Year's Eve house party that left four people injured when he headed to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

Authorities say it was there that he shot and killed a park ranger and later died after spending the night ill-equipped for the freezing winter temperatures.

National Veterans Foundation founder and president Shad Meshad told ABC News Los Angeles affiliate KABC-TV that Barnes had called their line last June seeking assistance regarding healthcare benefits. "He was probably really on the verge then of really doing something crazy," Meshad said. "But we don't know that."media: 15904365

quicklist: 4title: On Spice, AWOL Soldier Allegedly Stabs Teentext: Private Dakota Wolf allegedly murdered 19-year-old Scarlett Paxton on Nov. 30 2011 outside of her Kirkland, Wash., apartment by stabbing her in the neck with a butcher knife. Wolf, 19, admitted to police that he had smoked spice on the night of Paxton's death, was addicted to spice, and was dealing with severe paranoia and anger management issues, according to KOMO.

Earlier that month, Wolf, who was based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, had failed to report to duty, going AWOL for the sixth time and reportedly staying at a home in Kirkland. King County prosecutors said that Wolf murdered Ms. Paxton, citing DNA tests that match Paxton's blood with blood found on clothing in the bedroom where Wolf was staying.

Wolf is currently reportedly confined at Lewis-McChord, facing charges of failing to report for duty and assaulting a non-commissioned officer in a separate incident, which could result in a bad-conduct discharge and one year in prison. Wolf will then face charges of murder before the King County Superior Court.

The Seattle Times contributed to this report.

quicklist: 5title: Vet Fires on Police, Killed in Responsetext: Army veteran Brandon Barrett disappeared from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in July 2010, only to resurface in Salt Lake City wandering the streets while heavily armed.

After witnesses spotted Barrett carrying a gun, they called police, according to The Associated Press. When police arrived on the scene, Barrett reportedly opened fire on them, prompting the police to return fire, killing Barrett. One officer was injured in the attack and a local judge later cleared the police of any wrongdoing in the killing.

quicklist: 6title: Teen Dies Partying on Basetext: In February 2009 a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Leah King, was pronounced dead at Fort Lewis after ingesting a lethal dose of prescription drugs allegedly provided by a Fort Lewis soldier. Another 16-year-old girl was found unconscious on the base but was rushed to the hospital and survived the episode.

King overdosed in the room of the soldier, Timothy Bennitt, then a 19-year-old private, investigators said. Investigators found that the teenagers had crushed up Xanax and the pain-killer oxymorphone, also known as Opana, and inhaled them in powder form.

In 2010, a military judge found Bennitt guilty of involuntary manslaughter in King's death, according to the Associated Press. One former Fort Lewis solder told ABC News' Seattle affiliate KOMO that the army base "can certainly be attractive, an attractive environment with a bunch of soldiers who are older and have access to alcohol and drugs oftentimes."media: 15905001

quicklist: 7title: Soldier Pleads Guilty to Rape, Torturetext: In January 2009, an AWOL Fort Lewis soldier was charged for the brutal rape and torture of two women.

According to authorities, on New Year's Day 2009 Staff Sgt. Nathan Ryan Smith, then 29, choked one woman in a Tacoma, Wash., parking lot until she was unconscious, then brought her to his home, where he shocked her with electrified clamps and raped her.

Two days later, he allegedly choked a second woman who had returned with him to his home until she was unconscious. She later escaped, bound and naked, and ran to a neighbor's house for help.

According to Pierce County prosecutors, Smith told one of the women, "I have killed several people in Iraq. I'm crazy in the head, and if I get caught by police I will come looking for you and kill you." Smith, who later pleaded guilty to charges including second-degree rape, was sentenced in 2010 to 11 years in prison, KOMO reported.

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quicklist: 8title: Lt. Col. Allegedly Threatened to Have Wife Killedtext: An officer from Joint Base Lewis-McChord was arrested March 12 after he allegedly told his girlfriend he'd hired a hit man to kill his wife, and also said he would blow up the state capitol building in nearby Olympia. Probable cause documents alleged that Lt. Col. Robert Underwood's girlfriend told authorities he had said he had paid a hit man to kill his wife and another officer for $150,000. He allegedly also threatened the girlfriend after she found a naked picture of his teen daughter on his laptop. A sheriff's department spokesman told a reporter for KIRO-TV that Underwood had also allegedly threatened to blow up the state capitol building, but Underwood has not been charged in connection with the alleged threat. He has pled not guilty to three counts of felony harassment. Court records state that Underwood has been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder but found not to suffer from it.