Some of the first images in a set of notorious photographs showing soldiers posing with dead Afghans were taken with a sense pride that the Army was fighting and killing its enemy, a Stryker officer testified Thursday.
Capt. Roman Ligsay told an Army investigator at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that he posed for one of the pictures in November 2009 even though he knew soldiers were ordered not to take photos of casualties for personal use. He said he felt a “sense of accomplishment” when he saw an Afghan who was killed by an American helicopter.
To him, the image showed “we were fighting the enemy. We weren’t just out there on patrols every day and not seeing the success of those patrols.”
Ligsay wasn’t prosecuted for taking the photo, yet he was in court testifying at a pretrial hearing for the sergeant who appears in the image with him: Staff Sgt. David Bram.
Ligsay was promoted from lieutenant after he came home last summer with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Bram, 27, came home an alleged criminal for, among other things, possessing photos of casualties. He faces more than 20 years in prison on charges that he failed to report crimes, participated in discussions about how to murder civilians, beat up a private, assaulted Afghans and planted evidence to cover up a suspicious killing.
Five of their platoon mates have been labeled a “kill team” for allegedly murdering Afghan civilians in combat-like situations they created. Photos of one of their three victims have appeared in news outlets around the world.
Ligsay’s testimony was his first at any of the several hearings for a dozen soldiers in his former platoon; the 12 were charged with committing war crimes and other misconduct during their deployment to southern Afghanistan.
Bram’s attorney, Bill Cassara, said Ligsay only recently became available as a witness after reaching an immunity agreement that protects him from prosecution.
Ligsay’s testimony generally favored Bram’s defense. The captain countered an allegation that Bram planted evidence near the body of an Afghan the platoon killed in January 2010. He said it was reasonable that Bram would find a magazine for an AK-47 near the corpse even after his fellow soldiers had searched the area.
They shot the Afghan to death when the man ignored their orders to stop walking toward them, triggering fears among the soldiers that he was a suicide bomber.
Spc. Brandon Rodriguez, another soldier who testified Thursday, said he was with Bram for the entirety of the search after the shooting and did not see Bram drop a magazine near the corpse.
Two other soldiers testified Wednesday that Bram kept that magazine in his Stryker vehicle and asked Pvt. Emmitt Quintal to retrieve it when the platoon searched for two hours trying to find evidence to demonstrate the victim was a legitimate kill.
Ligsay also said the only soldier he remembered talking about using Afghan weapons to cover up suspicious incidents was Pvt. Jeremy Morlock – the Army’s main witness in its “kill team” investigation.
Morlock has pleaded guilty to participating in each of the three murders and agreed to testify against his codefendants. He says Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs initiated talks about using so-called “drop weapons” to justify killings in November 2009. That’s about the same time that Ligsay and the platoon found the helicopter attack victim.
Ligsay said Morlock approached him as the platoon gathered evidence at the scene and asked to keep the Afghan’s weapon “in case we need it.”
Ligsay said he rejected Morlock’s request and submitted the weapon to his command.
Gibbs has denied participating in staged murders. He’s in pretrial confinement awaiting his court-martial.
Cassara, Bram’s attorney, said prosecutors failed to show that the Bram did anything illegal on his deployment.
“This is what happens when lawyers micromanage a war,” Cassara said.
“You can nit-pick a billion things.”