|Jeremy Morlock is charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghan civilians [REUTERS]
A US soldier who allegedly killed three Afghan civilians for fun will face a full court martial.
Jeremy Morlock, one of the group of 12 accused soldiers, faces charges of premeditated murder, military authorities said Friday.
The case has drawn intense media scrutiny because Morlock and fellow soldiers are accused of taking ghoulish photos of corpses and taking body parts as war trophies.
The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses. Authorities have not specified if the bones they say some men took were from the bodies of slain civilians.
The decision to take the case to a full court martial trial comes after preliminary hearings in late September.
"The case will now come under the control of a military judge who will arraign the accused," the Joint Base Lewis-McChord said in a statement.
Morlock's case was referred to general court-martial this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, the home base of his army unit. No trial date has been set, according to the statement.
While a charge of premeditated murder carries the possibility of the death sentence, it was decided in this case that Morlock would face a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on all charges, according to Kathleen Turner, a spokesperson for the US army.
He faces three charges of pre-meditated murder and one of assault, as well as charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to assault. He is also accused of trying to block an investigation, using a controlled drug and of "wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties".
Morlock, 22, from Wasilla, Alaska, is one of five soldiers charged with murder in the case. Seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation, using hashish and severely beating a comrade who blew the whistle.
The case could undermine the war effort as US-led forces try to win over wary Afghans and counter Taliban fighters in the battlefield of Kandahar.
US officials acknowledge they are concerned about the potential fallout. Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon press secretary, said that the charges represented "an aberration" for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.
The prosecution of the 12 soldiers stems from their deployment as part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, recently renamed the 2nd Stryker Brigade, in Kandahar province.
The investigation has raised questions about whether the accused, all enlisted men, were influenced by commanders who may have been contemptuous of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan, which emphasised building the trust of Afghan citizens.
“There are severe problems with attitudes toward counterinsurgency strategies, namely winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, in the leadership as well as among the soldiers in the Stryker brigade,'' said Stjepan Mestrovic, a Texas A&M professor and author of a book on misconduct by US military personnel in Iraq.
“Soldiers have told me that they resented having tea with village elders knowing that others in the villages collaborated with the Taliban or were making IEDs to kill Americans,'' he said this week.
The Pentagon has not commented on the matter.