Hearing underway in Afghan slayings
Sergeant accused of masterminding killings of civilians
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The Army sergeant accused of masterminding a plan to kill Afghan civilians for sport and goading other soldiers to do the same appeared at a military hearing yesterday to determine whether there is enough evidence to court-martial him.
In what has emerged as one of the most gruesome cases of the Afghan war, fellow soldiers say Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs also threatened them, collected fingers of the dead, and found it amusing to slaughter animals with his assault rifle.
Gibbs has a chance to contest that portrait during the Article 32 hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle. Charges against him include murder, dereliction of duty, and trying to impede an investigation. The hearing is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, with an officer determining whether there is enough evidence to send the case to a court martial. It is expected to last two days, with a decision in the coming weeks.
Presiding officer Colonel Thomas Molloy said yesterday that lawyers for 10 of the other 11 soldiers charged — some with killings, some with other offenses — say their clients are unavailable to testify. The 11th has not been called.
Gibbs, a 25-year-old from Billings, Mont., is the highest-ranking of the five soldiers charged in the killings of three civilians during patrols in Kandahar Province this year.
“He liked to kill,’’ contended Specialist Adam Winfield, who said he tried to blow the whistle on the alleged murder plot before taking part in the final killing. “He manipulated a lot of us into doing what he wanted us to do.’’
Gibbs insists the deaths were appropriate engagements, said his lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, who declined to comment further.
Gibbs arrived in the platoon late last year and soon began telling his subordinates how easy it would be to kill civilians, some soldiers said in statements to investigators.
He reportedly spoke of getting away with killing a family when he served in Iraq — a claim investigators are still investigating.
The soldiers said he devised scenarios under which he could kill Afghan civilians, suggesting in one case that if he and his men came across someone in a village flagged as Taliban-influenced, they could toss a grenade and claim they had been responding to a threat. Gibbs also illicitly collected weapons — including an AK-47 and a rocket-propelled grenade — which he could plant on the bodies of dead civilians to make them appear to be combatants, the soldiers said.
In addition to the killings, Gibbs and some of his men fired at — but missed — two unarmed farmers during a patrol in late March, investigators were told.
Gibbs falsely reported that they shot at three combatants, one armed with a rocket launcher, according to Staff Sergeant Robert G. Stevens of Portland, Ore., who said he took part in the attack but tried to miss the farmers. The three were not killed or wounded, Stevens said in a sworn statement.