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Judge rejecting appeals to stay in the Army from soldiers linked to war crimes

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Feb. 24, 2011 at 11:08 am |
February 24, 2011 2:53 pm

Soldiers linked to the war crimes investigation unfolding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord shouldn’t expect to stay in the Army.

That’s one way to read yesterday’s sentencing for Spc. Adam Kelly of Montesano, who was convicted of assaulting a comrade who blew the whistle on drug use in their platoon while it was deployed to Afghanistan.

He’s one of 12 soldiers in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division accused of misconduct at Forward Operating Base Ramrod last year. Five of them are accused of murdering three Afghan civilians during patrols.

The charges Kelly faced were on the less serious side of the spectrum among the dozen.

In addition to assault, he was accused of conspiring to harm the whistleblower, trying to obstruct an Army investigation and smoking hashish during his deployment.

He was found guilty on the conspiracy charge, and not guilty of the other two.

Army judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks handed Kelly a bad-conduct discharge and sentenced him to 60 days of hard labor.

That sentence is consistent with a one given to Spc. Emmitt Quintal, who faced similar charges. Quintal was given a bad-conduct discharged and sentenced to 90 days of hard labor in spite of cooperating with the Army investigation and agreeing to testify against his codefendants.

Hawks presided over Quintal’s case. He’s also set to handle one next week for Spc. Corey Moore, a soldier facing charges like Kelly’s and Quintal’s.

The judge in December sentenced Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens, a codefendant in the war crimes investigation who pled guilty to firing at Afghan noncombatants, improperly disposing of a grenade by throwing it out of the back of a convoy, and lying about his actions to cover his tracks. Stevens got nine months in prison and a demotion to private.

Hawks is the judge for Staff Sgt. David Bram and Sgt. Darren Jones, whose charges mainly center on beating up the whistleblower. Hawks could be harsher with them if they’re found guilty. Army prosecutors have argued that the sergeants should have protected that soldier, then-Pfc. Justin Stoner, instead of participating in a pummeling.

Hawks is expected to preside over the courts-martial for the soldiers facing the most serious charges – Spc. Jeremy Morlock and Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. Each is charged with helping to carry out three civilian murders.

Kelly pulled out all the stops to stay in the Army. His platoon leader, squad leader and another noncommissioned officer went to bat for him.

Lt. Stefan Moye, Kelly’s platoon leader since March, said the specialist’s performance has been “exceptional. To be honest with you, of all the guys going through the process, he’s one of the guys who’s shown an interest in rebuilding the team as we prepare for our next deployment.”

Moye and the two other character witnesses said Kelly had the potential to lead soldiers again, an assertion that prosecutors contrasted with Kelly’s admission that he beat up a private during his last deployment.

Kelly “does not have that judgment. He does not have that character. He does not have that potential for leadership,” prosecutor Capt. Dre Leblanc said.

Also Wednesday, Kelly’s attorney opened up some of the weaknesses in Stoner’s credibility that other codefendants likely will try to exploit.

A picture has emerged of Stoner as someone who didn’t get along with many of his platoon mates. He apparently was passed around among squad leaders until Gibbs assigned him to an undesirable job in January on a base security detail. That prevented him from going out on missions with his comrades.

Kelly argued that he helped beat up Stoner simply because he didn’t like the soldier, not because he wanted to intimidate him from raising concerns about the platoon’s misconduct. Other soldiers who participated in the assault likely will make the same case.

Stoner, 21, acknowledged that he didn’t particularly like being in the Army before the assault. Now, he said, “I don’t care for it one bit.”

Stoner also downplayed how the assaulted has affected him.

“It wasn’t enjoyable, but there are worse things that can happen,” he said.

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