‘The Kill Team’

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

The Relationship between documentary film makers and their subjects is rarely neutral. Most documentaries involve layers upon layers of complex negotiations on and off camera. Dan Krauss’ ‘The Kill Team’ (USA, Video, 2014, Colour, 79 mins) looks at military murders in Afghanistan and their aftermath. Five American soldiers were accused in 2011 of murdering three Afghan civilians, as sport. The accused American soldiers had hunted the Afghans, posed in photographs with corpses, shared the pictures with others, and even took body parts as souvenirs. The soldiers were members of the Fifth Striker Brigade, Second Infantry Division, which had been deployed in a region near Kandahar. Specialist Adam C Winfield was one of the accused. His lawyer Eric Montalvo had raised the question ‘How was this allowed to happen?’ The question haunts the documentary, written by Das Krauss, Lawrence Lerow and Linda Davis. News accounts had described specialist Winfield as both a whistle blower and a murder suspect. The director of the film fails to understand how a soldier could be considered in the moral right and in the moral wrong. Krauss the film maker had reached out to lawyer Montalvo, and agreed to do some probing work for the defence team as videographer. The film maker’s lens becomes narrowed, as in time Krauss develops a bond with Specialist Winfield and his family.

There is a photograph of one of the murdered Afghan men, juxtaposed with a scene in which specialist Winfield’s father, Christopher describes their situation as a nightmare, while standing next to the family swimming pool. An early shot in the movie shows Specialist Winfield in hand cuffs. The image of the shackled soldier returns repeatedly to convey the thesis that, before his arrest, he was also a prisoner of his rogue platoon. Talking head interviews, videos and atrocity photographs shot by the soldiers build an argument that the accused soldiers are part of story of victimisation and not of the Afghans. The accused American soldier Winfield tried to do the right thing, but was obstructed at every step, including by the military. ‘The Kill Team’ has a shocking title, but the movie descends to a partisan portrait of Specialist Winfield and his family.

Vol. 47, No. 21, Nov 30 - Dec 6, 2014