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Alleged “kill team” leader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs admits keeping war trophies

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:30 am |
October 31, 2011 5:39 pm

5:30 PM UPDATE: “Kill team” key witness Jeremy Morlock is under cross examination tonight, and his testimony is expected to continue Tuesday at a court-martial for Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.

Gibbs’ defense attorney is hammering Morlock on the soldier’s admittedly frequent drug use during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Morlock today acknowledged that he smoked hashish at least three times a week and as much as twice a day during his deployment.

Morlock’s drug use is important because Stackhouse wants to demonstrate that Morlock is untrustworthy and has a faulty memory. Morlock has testified for about six hours today. He fingered Gibbs as the soldier who concocted schemes to murder Afghan civilians during their patrols from Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

Morlock said Gibbs had little regard for Afghans. “He had a general disdain for them,” Morlock said. “The word he used quite frequently to describe them was ‘savages.’”

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12:50 PM UPDATE: Alleged Stryker “kill team” leader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs toyed with an Afghan teenager’s corpse as if it was “a puppet” after a January 2010 shooting, a key Army witness at Gibbs’ court-martial testified today.

Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, who has pleaded guilty to murdering the teenager and two others under combat scenarios Gibbs’ created, said Gibbs cut a finger from the victim and later gave it to another soldier. Gibbs also hoisted the body and played with the teenager’s arms, Morlock said.

“Everybody was really excited,” Morlock said. “It was the first time the platoon had a confirmed kill.”

Photos of the victim loomed over the courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for much of Morlock’s testimony. They show the bloodied boy with Morlock and another soldier posing over him as if he was a hunting trophy.

Morlock is serving a 24-year prison sentence for his crimes. He’s testifying as the Army’s star witness against Gibbs, 26.

Gibbs’ attorney earlier today acknowledged that Gibbs kept fingers from three Afghan victims during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. However, defense attorney Phil Stackhouse insisted that Gibbs did not murder anyone.

The trial is on a lunch break and it is expected to resume with more testimony from Morlock this afternoon.

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The court-martial for alleged Army “kill team” mastermind Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs got underway today with opposing depictions of the infantryman from Montana as either a depraved soldier who took his squad down a dark path or the victim of pot-smoking platoonmates who framed him for their own crimes.

The Army characterized Gibbs as a sergeant who sought out weaknesses in a struggling platoon to find soldiers who would join him in murdering noncombatants. Prosecutor Army Capt. Dan Mazzone said Gibbs planted the seed for three killings when he joined a new platoon to replace a wounded sergeant in southern Afghanistan by talking about shootings he got away with in past deployments .

It’s easy to get away with murder, Mazzone said Gibbs told his platoonmates, as long as the killer chose the right conditions – such as selecting targets in Taliban friendly villages. Those steps would help soldiers cover up unlawful killings.

Gibbs and four other soldiers allegedly carried out those schemes three times last year. Gibbs will go to prison for life if he’s convicted of any one of those murders.

“People didn’t start dying until Staff Sgt. Gibbs joined Bravo Company,” Mazzone said.”At the end of the day, to quote Staff Sgt. Gibbs, it’s going to be that easy to convict Staff Sgt. Gibbs.”

Gibbs’ attorney, Phil Stackhouse, turned the case around on the prosecutors during his opening argument. He characterized the platoon as overcome by rampant misconduct even before Gibbs joined it in November 2009. Stackhouse took aim at the Army’s main witnesses, two of whom have pleaded guilty to murdering civilians under Gibbs’ direction.

The attorney cited their own statements acknowledging that they smoked hashish regularly on their deployment and continued to do so even after the Army investigation into their platoon got underway. Stackhouse charged that they used “hash filled” discussions to frame Gibbs in between interviews with Army investigators.

“What you’re seeing in this case is the ultimate betrayal of an infantryman,” Stackhouse said.

Key Army witness Pvt. Jeremy Morlock is expected to testify today. Morlock has pleaded guilty to murdering three Afghans and is serving a 24-year prison sentence.

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