A new movie offers Hollywood version of JBLM ‘kill team’ murders

The accusations were so horrific they reverberated from Afghaniston to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and back again.

The stories — murders and mutilations by U.S. Army soldiers — were true.

Come October, the ghastly history will become a fictionalized Hollywood movie.

The real story came to light in 2010 when a JBLM Stryker soldier deployed to Afghanistan complained that two of his platoonmates assaulted him after he raised concerns about his peers smoking marijuana in the war zone.

An Army inquiry soon uncovered more misconduct at the outpost in Kandahar Province, including allegations that bored troops killed young Afghans for fun, covered up shootings by calling them combat incidents and then snipped body parts from the corpses.

“The Kill Team” is the name of the movie based on those JBLM soldiers. It’s due out Oct. 25 in theaters and on-demand. It stars Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood”, “Big Little Lies”).

The so-called Afghan kill team was headed by then Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. He is serving a life sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth. He was a “leader of trust” with combat experience who persuaded junior soldiers to carry out unjustified killings during their patrols.

In the movie, Skarsgard plays a character (Sgt. Deeks) who becomes the ringleader of the renegade troops.

Directed by Dan Krauss, the film is a fictionalized version of a 2013 documentary he made about the unit, also called “The Kill Team.”

Krauss’s documentary centered on former Spc. Adam Winfield, a member of Gibbs’ platoon who was so troubled by the killings that he told his father about them months before the Army discovered them.

“Pretty much the whole platoon knows about it,” Winfield wrote to his father. “It’s OK with all of them pretty much. Except me. I want to do something about it. The only problem is I don’t feel safe here telling anyone.”

Winfield’s father, a former Marine, attempted to report his son’s fears to JBLM, but the Army did not act on the warning.

In May 2011, Winfield joined Gibbs in participating in the group’s final killing. In court, he was described as an unwilling participant in the shooting.

Gibbs’ team drew international condemnation when photographs of the men posing with the corpses of their Afghan victims surfaced.

Gibbs was found guilty of 15 criminal counts by a military jury in November 2011. Along with three murder charges, he was convicted of conspiring to kill innocent civilians, assaulting a junior-ranking soldier, keeping body parts from corpses and illegally possessing “off the books” weapons.

The movie also stars Nat Wolff who plays Private Andrew Briggman, a soldier who wrestles with his conscience during the killing spree. From Afghanistan, Briggman tells his father about what’s going on.

The character seems to be based on Winfield. Rob Morrow (“Northern Exposure”) plays Briggman’s dad who tries to alert the Army to the ongoing crimes just as Winfield’s father had done.

The film plays up the tension between Deeks and Briggman as the private contemplates reporting the crimes to the Army while Deeks increasingly questions the younger man’s loyalty.

Adam Ashton of The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.