Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 19, 2013
Director: Dan Krauss
In early 2010, a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in southern Afghanistan began a calculated killing spree of innocent civilians at the bullied urging of their platoon sergeant, cleverly staging the scenes to legitimize the senseless murders by planting weapons on their victims. The “Kill Team” soldiers are bored to death, but also scared for their lives. These premeditated murders are a way to pass the time. In a military culture in which killing the enemy is a measure of productivity that is perceived as the penultimate achievement, this squad’s itchy trigger fingers garner them awards for their heroic deeds.
Reluctant to participate in these grizzly acts, Specialist Adam Winfield opts to alert the military (via his father) to the horrific atrocities being committed by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Suspecting that Winfield might be trying to rat them out, his platoon mates threaten to kill him. Winfield finds himself faced with a decision to either die at the hand of his fellow soldiers or convince his comrades that he is one of them. Though Winfield knows that killing an innocent civilian is wrong, he wants to survive long enough to tell the public the truth about what is happening in Afghanistan. It is not long before the house of cards collapses. Winfield and several of his comrades return to the U.S. only to be charged with premeditated murder.
Director Dan Krauss conveys this embarrassing tale via firsthand accounts from four of the implicated soldiers, including Winfield. While the soldiers discuss their perspectives of the accounts with incredible frankness and insight, Krauss is also able to reveal some astonishing visual evidence that is being used against them. We might expect a lot of lies and coercion, but all of the cards are laid on the table. The soldiers acknowledge the horrendous acts that they participated in, as well as the hefty psychological impacts of those decisions, but the question remains: Who is truly at fault?
Ever since 9/11 our society has become brainwashed by a fear-mongering media that most of Western and Southern Asia is populated with potential terrorists. The Kill Team soldiers were submersed in a military culture of unbridled machismo that breeds aggression and teaches the distrust and hatred of a perceived enemy. The Kill Team reveals our assumptions that bullying runs rampant in the U.S. military as the members of Kill Team are not opposed to torturing and threatening each other in order to protect their own skin. They assume that as more soldiers participate in the killings, the chances of a rat snitching on them decreases. The U.S. military may have assumed the role of a policing force in Afghanistan, but The Kill Team shows that they need to be able to police themselves first.
Lawrence Lerew’s editing allows Krauss to intertwine Winfield’s present legal situation with the visual recollection of the past events that got him in this predicament; the way in which Lerew merges the emotional climaxes of two timelines is nothing shy of masterful. As the U.S. government chooses to condemn Winfield as a weak-minded soldier, we learn that he really only had one option.
If Stanley Kubrick was still alive, this all-too-real story would be prime fodder for him to once again portray the hazy moralities of war. Like Full Metal Jacket, The Kill Team tells the story of a draconian squad leader who rules his soldiers by fear; like Paths of Glory, the military sacrifices its low-ranking soldiers to take the blame (and punishment), while commanding officers do not even get a slap on the wrist. In retrospect, The Kill Team is one of those documentaries that seems to absurd to be real. How could the U.S. government (and media) continue to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Afghanistan? When are we as a society going to take full ownership for the wars that our nation enters into? We obviously need to become better informed and in a more timely manner. Instead of waiting for Krauss to bravely release The Kill Team, this story should have made international headlines. There should have been massive uprisings around the world. As U.S. citizens we should be ashamed that our government allowed the Kill Team to exist for so long; we should also be questioning the legitimacy of the outcome of the trials. The Kill Team has gotten me all riled up and politicized, but I will hop off of my soapbox for now…