I-Team Report: Negligent Homicide

January 5, 2011 8:36:23 PM PST
A military investigation into the battlefield death of Indiana Marine Joshua Birchfield has found it was a negligent homicide.

More than 1,400 American military men and women have been killed in Afghanistan the past decade.

Lance Corporal Josh Birchfield is the only service member to have been murdered by an American-paid security contractor.

The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has now officially determined what the I-Team first reported last March: that Birchfield was gunned down by a private Afghan guard paid under a pentagon security contract.

Wednesday night on a Facebook page in his memory, a photo was posted of Birchfield holding a grenade with a message for the folks back home: "This one is for the 'ville."

Westville, Ind., is a tightly-knit town of only 2,200 where nearby Birchfield is buried under a Marine Corps flag and surrounded by the red, white, and blue.

It didn't have to end this way and shouldn't have, according to a report by the NCIS, which investigates non combat deaths of navy personnel and whether crimes were committed.

NCIS investigators determined that on February 19, 2009 a crime was committed when 24-year-old Lance Corporal Birchfield was shot in the head and killed while on patrol in the Farah province.

According to the agency's 220-page final report:

  • the shooter was working security for a construction company, on a government contract
  • he spotted a group of armed men and opened fire
  • it was a U.S. Marine patrol
  • a suspected bag of opium was found at the guard post
  • but the guard wasn't drug tested because he confessed to the shooting calling it "a big mistake", then later claimed he thought he was shooting at ducks
  • the conclusion: Birchfield's death was "senseless and tragic'
  • the unnamed security guard was sentenced to 15 years in prison

"I'm just proud to have a son who is a United States Marine," said father Bruce Birchfield last February.

A picture of Birchfield's unit was taken just two and a half weeks before the incident at a time when some of his fellow soldiers told the I-Team they knew US-hired Afghan guards regularly smoked opium on while on duty.

NCIS investigators reported they were told that Birchfield's killer had smoked hashish or opium just prior to the attack.

Since the I-Team's original report, top U.S. military commanders, local members of Congress and the Senate Armed Services Committee have all expressed outrage at the lack of oversight in hiring private security in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Senate report last fall found Pentagon contracts and U.S. tax dollars going to Afghan warlords who murder, kidnap and bribe, and in some cases even attack those wearing U.S. uniforms.