Green Berets believed a fellow soldier had killed a civilian and kept his ear but didn't report him because they wanted their team intact for a mission to a remote Afghan village, a team member testified Wednesday.
Sgt. 1st Class Eugene Greathead testified Wednesday that team members expected gunfire during the mission and so agreed to wait several days before telling commanders about the fatal shooting. He said they didn't want Master Sgt. Joseph D. Newell immediately expelled from the team because they wanted "all the guns on the ground."
Greathead denied suggestions from Newell's attorney that team members conspired against Newell because he was too aggressive and his tactics could endanger members of the team.
He said team members held meetings without Newell only to discuss how and when they would report the March 5 killing. Newell is accused of dumping the Afghan civilian's body in the desert and keeping his ear as a souvenir.
"We had to do something about it," Greathead said. "What if his (the Afghan man's) family brought it up? Then we'd be just as guilty."
Greathead testified during the second day of an Article 32 hearing at Fort Bragg that could determine whether Newell is charged with murder. The officer in charge of the hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, will decide whether to recommend that commanders order a full military trial.
Newell, 38, of Tecumseh, Mich., was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group and was being held in pretrial confinement. Authorities have not released the name of the man Newell is accused of killing.
Body left in desert
A severed human ear was found in Newell's room at his base in Afghanistan, and its DNA matched blood on his knife and clothing. Investigators searching the room also found a scarf worn by the Afghan man, said Special Agent Aaron Van Tassel, an Army investigator who testified by telephone from Afghanistan.
But the Army never retrieved the man's body in the desert because commanders considered the area a war zone and too dangerous to search, Van Tassel said.
The senior noncommissioned officer in Newell's company, Sgt. Maj. Ronald Bryant, testified that Newell told him about the ear after Newell was arrested at Forward Operating Base Robinson, the remote base where the unit was assigned.
"He said, 'I've got an ear on my second or third shelf (in his room),'" Bryant said. "It knocked me for a loop. I said what kind of ear. He said human. He said 'It's bad, I know.' "
On cross examination, Bryant said Newell was a courageous soldier and a successful combat leader.
"He was a warrior," Bryant said. "He did what he had to do."
Sgt. 1st Class Ricky Derring said he saw Newell shoot the man in the chest after questioning him about being an insurgent, then leave the body in the desert. Derring testified Tuesday that he saw Newell make a cutting motion with his arms over the man's body. Then he came back to his vehicle and "shook the ear and grinned," Derring said.
Capt. Jason Walters, the officer in charge of the team of nine to 12 soldiers, testified Wednesday he never heard anyone talk about a shooting during the March 5 convoy. Walters said Newell had some personality conflicts when he was first assigned to the unit but was a good combat soldier and earned his trust.
On cross examination, Walters said there were no serious conflicts between Newell and others on the team.
"He did want to do the right thing," Walters said. "I trusted him."
This is the second time Special Forces soldiers from Fort Bragg have been accused of killing an Afghan civilian since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Last year, an officer and a sergeant were accused of killing Nawab Buntangyar in October 2006 in the village of Ster Kalay, near the Pakistan border. At their Article 32 hearing, officers concluded the charges were unfounded, and U.S. Special Forces commander Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko dismissed them.