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Hearing begins in Stryker 'kill team' case

By Craig Whitlock

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - A soldier who is charged with leading a conspiracy to randomly target and kill unarmed Afghan civilians made his first appearance in a military courtroom Tuesday, as prosecutors presented details of perhaps the most serious war-crimes case to emerge from the Afghan conflict.

Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont., is accused of leading a "kill team" of soldiers that murdered three unarmed Afghan men, hoarded body parts and photographed each other posing with their victims between January and May. Although the Army has not revealed a motive for the killings, other soldiers charged in the case have said they acted simply because they thought they could get away with it - and did so for several months without attracting scrutiny.

Four other soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division also face murder charges. Some of the defendants have described Gibbs as the ringleader, saying he planned the attacks, planted evidence to cover them up, carved fingers off corpses and intimidated other members of the unit to keep silent.

Gibbs's civilian attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, has said that the killings were combat-related and therefore justified. Gibbs's family members have declined to speak with reporters.

In a pre-trial hearing Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., the military laid out its charges against Gibbs. They include three counts of murder, conspiracy, dereliction of duty, assault with a dangerous weapon and attempting to impede an investigation. The Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing; a military judge will determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a court martial.

On Tuesday, Gibbs, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, sat largely expressionless in the wood-paneled courtroom, flanked by his two lawyers. He declined to address the court, but told the military court's investigating officer, Col. Thomas P. Molloy, that he understood the charges against him and was satisfied with his legal defense.

More than 20 witnesses are scheduled to be called during the two-day hearing. Most of them are members of Gibbs's unit and were expected to decline to testify by invoking their right against self-incrimination.

According to Army criminal investigators, the killings began two months after Gibbs joined the unit in November and began bragging about how easy it had been for him to get away with "stuff" during a previous deployment in Iraq. The Army has subsequently re-opened an investigation into a 2004 incident in which Gibbs and other soldiers are alleged to have fired on an unarmed Iraqi family riding in a car, killing two adults and one child.

Gibbs told interrogators in May that any suggestion he had committed pre-meditated murder was "offensive." But he has not denied involvement in the killings. According to the Army, he sports a vivid tattoo on his left calf of a crossed pair of pistols, framed by six skulls.

Three of the skulls, colored in red, represented "kills" he had in Iraq, Gibbs told his interrogators; the other three skulls, in blue, were from Afghanistan.

By Craig Whitlock  | November 9, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
 
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Comments

Sickening. Welcome to the world of remote unmanned drone attacks, video game-style slaughter, and a US military composed of otherwise unemployable Bible Belt morons. Worst of all, the average American couldn't care less about the atrocities being carried out in the name of mindless patriotism, fundamentalist Christianity, and arrogance.

Again, it's sickening.

Posted by: weylguy | November 9, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

No weylguy, YOU are the sickening one. Who hides behind your anonymous handle, wouldn't know a suicide bomber until he blew up in your face. And by refusing to volunteer for any military service are too cowardly to do anything except sound off while others protect you.

You are one who is not worth defending.

Posted by: dave19 | November 9, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

It is a shame that this soldier turned out to be like that, (if he is guilty)
having served in Viet Nam for 2 years myself, I fully understand how some people cannot control their actions when in a war zone.
Hopefully he will get better with medical treaatment.

Posted by: JimW2 | November 9, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

So let me get this straight dave19, you're defending this stryker team and their actions? Seems to me that weylguy actually represents the values the military is supposed to be exemplifying and upholding - at least back when I served. By the way, fairly anonymous handle you have there too....

Posted by: ChrisnDC9 | November 9, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

It is a shame that this soldier turned out to be like that, (if he is guilty)
having served in Viet Nam for 2 years myself, I fully understand how some people cannot control their actions when in a war zone.
Hopefully he will get better with medical treaatment.

Posted by: JimW2 | November 9, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse
_____________________

Hopefully he will get the electric chair.

Posted by: vmunikoti | November 9, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

The British have had numerous arrests by simple good police and intel work. That kind of approach to what is a rather small number of gihad lunatics, is going to be more productive than trying to send armies after them.

- new; Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | November 9, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

JIMW2 IS RIGHT. SOMETIMES REVENGE IS A DISH
SERVED HOT.

Posted by: ALCURTIS1 | November 9, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

They did because they thought they could get away with it. This could be a lesson for an immoral and corrupt evil world. It does not matter what you do to other people as long as you can get away with it.

Those born again in the spirit of God know they will not get away with anything. A born again Christian believes in full accountability before God on that day when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Posted by: klausdmk | November 9, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

How about the 3,000 innocent Americans incinerated ,vaporized and jumped to their deaths from the towers on 9/11.How about the Fort Hood massacre,the 17 sailors who died in the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen,the 200 marines bombed in their barracks in Lebanon,the people who died by the bombings of 2 US embassies in Africa by Al-Qaeda. To stop talking about these let us use our old arsenal of nuclear weapons to make the muslims extinct and then we can have new nuclear weapons to prevent threats and intimidation from the North Korea,China,Russia,Venezuela . The US should be threatening the world to maintain peace. NO criticizing or mocking the US or they will be eliminated.All of us living now will all be dead in 100 years anyway . There is no more principles,justice,fairness,respect,compassion,human and civil rights in the world today because we overkilled them.Think about all of humans living today becoming dusts and skeletons in a hundred years and the hopefully new generations of humans may make our species extinct just like the dinosaurs.Nobody lives forever.There are a thousand ways to die.

Posted by: mahalapril | November 9, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

to weylguy
_______________________________________

You are right on one count, sickening.
You are probably at least half right on a second point - that the average American couldn't care less. Unfortunately we have allowed our fears for economic well-being trump everything else in our little worlds and forgotten we have our youngsters out fighting in our name.

On your third point however you are woefully misinformed and bigoted. The average young soldier is better educated and shoulders vastly greater degrees of responsibility then his or her civilian counterparts and are from every corner of this country. They are fractionally more likely to be rural and southern but not to any significant degree. They certainly aren't "Bible-Belt morons", whomever those people might be? Nothing I have heard or read about this case has anything to do with some fundamentalist Christian plot.

So we agree it is sickening, but let's not condemn the entire military for the actions of a few criminals. Nearly a million Soldiers and Marines have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly all of them have served with honor and distinction. Don't let the isolated actions of a few brand us all as insane morons.

Posted by: army164 | November 9, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, the real war criminal, with the blood of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, on his hands, has crawled from under his Texas rock and is out flogging his book of phony self-justifications on the talk show circuit.

Posted by: folder9633 | November 9, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

This is very disturbing. We're supposed to be helping the Afghan people and giving them an alternative to the Taliban, not killing innocent people.
There are bad people everywhere and unfortunately, the military attracts them.
I'm just relieved to see the military prosecuting nad not covering up.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 9, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I served in the U.S. military for 35 years and in-country for three wars beginning with two tours in Vietnam. I didn't do this only to have some lunatics, also in the military, murder innocent civilians and display a level of barbarism that we often think is only capable by our enemies. All Americans should be disgusted with the massacre of between 347-504 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, at My Lai, South Vietnam in March 1968. I was on my second tour in Vietnam when it happened. Everyone with whom I was serving were shocked and dismayed at the incident and felt the soldiers involved should have been court martialed and punished to the fullest extent of military law. Unfortunately they did not receive a just punishment for their atrocities. History will probably show that this current incident involving the Stryker soldiers will probably no be the last. The murder that they do to innocent civilians is unfathomable and completely outside any training that they received since entering the service. Everyone in the military must now receive extensive training in the rules of engagement and the Genève Convention and the difference in the treatment of combatants vs innocent civilians. These guys are nothing more than murders of the worse kind because they knew it was wrong, it was not in keeping with their training, and they did it for nothing more than the thrill. They viewed the Afghans as nothing more than a lower species, suitable for targeting for sport. Their damage to the image and mission of the United States and its allies is devastating and not in keeping with the morale character of the vast majority of U.S. citizens and members of the military. If these Stryker soldiers are found guilt as charged they should be punished to the fullest extent possible under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those that perpetrated the massacre at My Lai got off easy for what they did. We can't afford to have more hands simply slapped for these kinds of actions on the part of a few rogue members of our military. The message must be sent that these kinds of atrocities will not be condoned at any time or place and such actions will come at a high price to the perpetrators.

Posted by: garypierce1 | November 9, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Mahalapril, you apparently are either a complete nut case or someone trying to get a rise out of everuone. Which is it because you certainly be serious. We won't be here in 100 years but the future gernerations will. If there 1,000 ways to die, why don't you find one of them and do us all a favor and try one.

Posted by: garypierce1 | November 9, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that these atrocities came to light after one of the soldiers charged told his parents whom told the military.

I think it's pretty ridiculous to use this incident as a justification for hating or badmouthing the military, or even the wars we are prosecuting.

There are bad apples in every bunch, and hopefully the Military Justice system will mete out the appropriate punishment.

In the meantime, maybe we can develop an exit plan to bring our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters home, alive and in one piece ASAP? Or is a rational discussion of our efforts, goals, and milestones in Iraq and Afghanistan tantamount to giving into the Terrorists?

Posted by: JoeMck | November 9, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Military justice will be swift and feeble. No brass will suffer, and insurgents will credibly claim that the crusader nation still winks at its own freelance death squads.

Posted by: hanley12 | November 9, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

They will all get off with a slap on the wrist.

Posted by: dfdougherty | November 9, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

IF there was a war "defending" the US, you would still lack moral men and women to join. The current wars are nothing more than invasions, protecting the drug trade, buying favors from the mafia types which run Iraq and Afghanistan. MOney can't be dispensed fast enough to these "heads of state". A local young man joined after repeated coercion from a recruiter even though he is severely bipolar and dangerous off his meds. I only hope he shoots another American, not an innocent person.

Posted by: chkpointe | November 9, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"Don't let the isolated actions of a few brand us all as insane morons."

I agree. Now let's turn that around and apply it to Muslims around the world, as well.

Posted by: lizgwiz | November 9, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I'll take this time to mention that the Army does have the death penalty, even if they don't enforce it.

I say throw the book at this guy, he's a black eye to the military and the country.
He has committed war crimes and needs to be tried and convicted of such. Let the Iraqis and Afghans enact their justice on him for the innocent people he murdered. Life is no less precious when it's non-American or non-white.

Posted by: HappyArmyWife | November 9, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

It's sickening that these pathetic cowards are proud about killing unarmed people including children, for fun, and getting tattoos afterward. "Look ma, I shot a whole family, including two babies, because they were brown! Yeee haw!" It's obvious we aren't sending anywhere close to our best and brightest over there. Do these guys even have high school diplomas or GEDs? Republicans will call them heroes. These guys will be rewarded with federal jobs in DC after they get their slap on the wrist.

Posted by: miknugget | November 9, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Weylguy here again.

All very interesting comments, some clearly well-intentioned, some off the wall. I recognize the decent US military personnel who are trying to serve our country humanely, but the fact remains that these atrocities continue to occur, and their truly horrendous nature continues to be defended by a significant percentage of Americans.

Some day, dave19, you and I will stand before God to give an accounting of our lives. You will then get your reward, and I will likely get my clock cleaned as well. May God forgive us all.

Posted by: weylguy | November 9, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

We can't have war and civilization. The weapons are too powerful and people are weak. It's going to get more uncivilized. One bomb can destroy a civilization, a war just picks off people slowly. Personally I would rather go fast.

Posted by: jobandon | November 9, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

LIBERAL SCUM WANTS THIS! LEAVE OUR MILITARY ALONE! THEY KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING! GEORGE SOROS IS BEHIND THIS! TRY GEORGE SOROS INSTEAD - FOR TREASON! HE WANTS TO DESTROY THIS COUNTRY! HE HAS A BIG SHOCK IN STORE FOR HIM IF HE AND HIS SCUM TRY ANYTHING!

Posted by: georges2 | November 9, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Good noncoms know everything that goes on in a unit. It appears there are some worthless noncoms out there. Where was the Platoon Sergeant?

Posted by: nanonano1 | November 9, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I blame Global Warming/Cooling/Climate Change. Or maybe trans-fats.

Posted by: luca_20009 | November 9, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

An appropriate sentence for Calvin and other sociopaths who kill to see if they can feel anything,(they can't) would be to put him in a real fire fight where he had no chance of harming U.S. troops.
Instead, if the 'program' proceeds as usual, he'll be diagnosed as having a "character disorder" (for which there is currently only one cure) and released after a perfunctory stay in a treatment center with a checkmark on his resume that will put him in solid with DynCorp, a group of monsters who not only deal in human trafficking, but sample their wares in child prostitution and slavery.

Posted by: jbksss | November 9, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

this is a circumstance which calls for thorough and severe punishment. No more of what Lt. Calley got for My Lai and what those folks who were tried in Abu Ghraib got.
This calls for throwing the book at these monsters. Quite possibly a 3-drug cocktail.

Posted by: j762 | November 9, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

miknugget ~ you said "because they are brown", and you also said some of them were babies.

The investigation clearly reveals the victims were all "white people" and no one said anything about babies.

You sure you're talking about Afghanistan, or some other place and a different army?

Posted by: muawiyah | November 9, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

nanonano1:
You are asking the question I asked:
Where is command oversight?
Why didn't their command know what they were doing?
Like garypierce1, I remember My Lai as well.
These Stryker boys have done serious damage to our country because they are providing fodder for terrorist recruitment and they were rendering our mission over there a failure.
Not to mention the war crimes.
"Their damage to the image and mission of the United States and its allies is devastating and not in keeping with the moral character of the vast majority of U.S. citizens and members of the military. If these Stryker soldiers are found guilty as charged, they should be punished to the fullest extent possible under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
Posted by: garypierce1 | November 9, 2010 4:00 PM
==
They are no different than Nadal Hasan, being tried for the Fort Hood shooting and if found guilty, they should be sentenced to the same kind of punishment.
This is not what we train our military to do in the war zone.
What they have effectively done is to inspire terrorist wanna-bes to target Americans everywhere they can find us.
And by the way, I'm the wife of a 33-year Vietnam veteran and member of the Texas Air National Guard.
They will NOT receive a "wrist-slap."

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | November 9, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

I see no bravery in their eyes any more.

Only sadness. Only sadness.

These soldiers are only the tip of the iceberg showing what those "heroes" who are "protecting" us really do. Snitching and whistle-blowing are very bad career choices, but American ignorance about what's going on during these "wars against terror" has got to be dispelled.

The comment by garypierce1 | November 9, 2010 4:00 is the best one so far. I fear too many of our soldiers are not so honorable as garypierce. War is hell.

We shouldn't give them any more. Nobody should go when somebody does give one.

Posted by: dwyerj1 | November 9, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

weylguy: Your attempt to justify calling service members Bible Belt Morons doesn't cut it. In fact, your statement that "a significant percentage of Americans" condone killing Afghan civilians is as patently false as your original statement.

You and mlknugget both need take 10 minutes and go online to acquaint yourselves with the kind of people who volunteer for the military. Your characterizations are so far off mark that perhaps you'll think next time before you smugly assume you're smarter than everyone else.

mlknugget, you might also want to lose the attitude that you're smarter than the average GED holder. I know a grand total of four people who have GEDs: one has a Ph.D. in social work, two are gainfully employed and working on masters degrees, and one never went beyond his GED but runs a very successful business with 135 employees. They are, in fact, some of the brightest people I know.

Posted by: exco | November 9, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

This could very well be a "non-controversy controversy" ginned up by our nations mothers to get their lib kids out of the basement so they can get some cleaning/disinfecting done. Just a thought.

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Posted by: goodlucky88 | November 9, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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