US Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who served with the 5th Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan, has been found guilty of murder, conspiracy, and other charges in connection with the killing of civilians for sport.
In a court-martial proceeding Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, Staff Sgt. Gibbs acknowledged keeping teeth and other body parts as war trophies during his time in Afghanistan, "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot."
But he denied taking part in two of the three incidents in which unarmed civilians were killed, and he said he had only returned fire in the other incident.
But military prosecutors – and the co-defendants who testified against Gibbs – portrayed him as the leader of the “kill team” charged with some of the worst atrocities known to have occurred in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Prosecutor Maj. Robert Stelle said the platoon was “out of control,” involved in other misconduct including drug use, collecting illicit weapons, planting weapons on the bodies of slain civilians to make it look like they were insurgents, and mutilating and taking pictures of Afghan remains.
Twelve soldiers in all were charged, and all but two have now been convicted in military trials. Gibbs was the highest-ranking of those charged.
Two of the co-defendants testified against Gibbs, saying that he urged them to attack civilians with rifle fire and grenades, and sometimes issued threats to force them to participate.
After the first killing, one soldier, then-Spc. Adam Winfield, 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, according to an Associated Press report. Winfield 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.
Another soldier who testified against Gibbs was Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who pleaded guilty to three counts of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
News of the atrocities, including graphic photos of some of the defendants posing next to Afghan civilian bodies, was reported in US and European magazines, prompting outrage among Afghan government officials.
As the story unfolded, US military officials publicly responded.
“The photos published by Rolling Stone are disturbing and in striking contrast to the standards and values of the United States Army,” the US Defense Department said in a statement in March. “Like those published by Der Spiegel, the Army apologizes for the distress these latest photos cause. Accountability remains the Army’s paramount concern in these alleged crimes.”
Gibbs faces life in prison. A sentencing hearing is to determine whether he will ever be eligible for parole.
“Staff Sgt. Gibbs betrayed his oath. He betrayed his unit, and with the flag of his nation blazoned across his chest thousands of miles from home, he betrayed his nation,” prosecutor Maj. Stelle said during the trial.