A U.S. soldier accused of exhorting his underlings to slaughter three civilians was convicted of murder, conspiracy, and other charges today in a case from the Afghan war.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was the highest ranking of five soldiers charged in the deaths of the unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar last year. At his seven-day court-martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the twenty-six-year-old acknowledged cutting fingers off corpses and yanking out a victim’s tooth to keep as war trophies, but he insisted he wasn’t involved in the first or third killings, and in the second he merely returned fire.
Prosecutors said Gibbs and his co-defendants knew the victims posed no danger and dropped weapons by their dead bodies to make them seem to have been combatants.
Three co-defendants pleaded guilty; two testified against him, portraying him as a leader who played with a victim’s corpse, moving the mouth like a puppet. Gibbs insisted they conspired to blame him for what they had done.
The jury deliberated for four hours. The sentencing hearing began immediately after the verdict was announced. The prosecutor asked for life without parole. He told jurors that Gibbs was supposed to protect the Afghan people but caused many to lose trust in Americans, hurting the mission. LeBlanc noted that Gibbs called the Afghans “savages.”
Gibbs’ lawyer, Phil Stackhouse, asked for leniency — life with parole, instead of without it — and noted that Gibbs could be eligible for parole after ten years if they allowed it.
The investigation into the Fifth Stryker Brigade unit exposed widespread misconduct. The wrongdoing included hash-smoking, collection of illicit weapons, mutilation and photography of Afghan remains, and gang-beating of a soldier who reported the drug use.
In all, twelve soldiers were charged; all but two have been convicted.
After the first killing, one soldier alerted his parents and told them more killings were planned, but his father’s call to a sergeant at Lewis-McChord relaying the warning went unheeded. He later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the last killing, saying he took part because he believed Gibbs would kill him if he didn’t.