Second court-martial ordered in probe of Army unit

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. Army general on Monday ordered a court-martial for the second of 12 infantrymen accused of terrorizing civilians and fellow soldiers as part of a rogue platoon in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Staff Sergeant David Bram faces charges ranging from conspiracy to commit assault and battery to dereliction of duty and trying to obstruct an investigation that started out as a probe into hashish abuse among the troops.

A court-martial was ordered last month for Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, the first to be charged in the case and one of five men accused of killing unarmed Afghan villagers.

Morlock and four other soldiers are charged with premeditated murder in connection with the deaths of three Afghan civilians that military prosecutors say were staged to appear as legitimate combat casualties.

Bram is one of seven men in Morlock’s unit, part of what was then the 5th Stryker Brigade, facing lesser charges stemming from the investigation.

The most potentially explosive aspect of the case are dozens of grisly photos that Bram, Morlock and two others are accused of having taken of war dead, some of them showing U.S. soldiers posing with Afghan corpses.

At an evidentiary hearing in the case last month, a military prosecutor described Bram, a former squad leader, “posing with part of a dead Afghani” in one shot.

The inflammatory nature of the images has drawn comparisons with pictures of Iraqi prisoners taken by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, which sparked worldwide outrage.

So far, the pictures in question have been sealed from public view by the military.

Bram also is one of several soldiers, Morlock among them, accused of severely beating an Army private in their unit to keep the soldier from informing superiors about alleged drug use in their unit.

If convicted of all five charges against him in a court-martial, Bram, 27, of Vacaville, California, faces a maximum punishment of 9-1/2 years in prison. No trial date has been set.

The referral of Bram’s case for court-martial was issued by Major General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commanding general at the soldiers’ home base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington.

Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan