JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs had a natural ability to lead, but he took trusted junior soldiers down a dark path that included "unspeakable cruelty," an Army prosecutor said Tuesday in the first public summation of the war-crimes case against the 26-old-year from Montana.
Capt. Andre Leblanc, the prosecutor, laid out the case against Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of a gang of 12 soldiers charged with committing more than 70 crimes while serving with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in southern Afghanistan.
Gibbs faces the most charges, which include the alleged murder of three unarmed Afghans, threatening two platoon members with death, and possession of severed fingers and other human body parts.
Incarcerated since May, the broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 Gibbs arrived in the courtroom Tuesday for a daylong hearing that will help Army commanders decide whether to proceed with a court-martial that could result in a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death.
When asked by an Army investigating officer if he understood the charges, Gibbs declared "yes, sir," in a crisp, clear voice. But he did not testify on his own behalf, and for most of the day, his defense council, Phillip Stackhouse, did the talking.
Stackhouse sparred with an Army investigative officer over whether other soldiers' statements and drawing should be admitted as evidence. In closing remarks, he lashed out at Spc. Jeremy Morlock, one of Gibbs' principal accusers, as an admitted hashish user whose statements were "inherently" unreliable.
Most of the Army investigation unfolded in May at Kandahar Airfield as agents from the Army's Criminal Investigative Command interviewed soldiers from Gibbs' platoon. Some soldiers alleged that Gibbs formed a "kill team," which prosecutors say led to the murders of three Afghans. The soldiers also detailed Gibbs' involvement in other illegal crimes, such as collecting body parts as grisly trophies.
"He bragged to the platoon about having fingers from the guys that had been killed," said Morlock, who is also accused of three murders, in a sworn statement that is part of that evidence.
But on Tuesday, more than a dozen witnesses that Army investigators had sought to testify invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and remained silent.
The sole soldier who did testify, 1st Lt. Stefan Moye, was a platoon leader, who testified Tuesday about a killing in May of an Afghan civilian. Moye said he thought that soldiers were justified in killing what appeared to be a grenade-toting Afghan, and that Gibbs appeared unsettled by the death.
"He just looked flustered. The only thing that I remember him express is that the whole scenario kind of shocked him," Moye said.
Prosecutors, however, cite statements by Morlock claiming the civilian was murdered and that soldiers placed a grenade by the body to make it appear as if it were a justified battlefield shooting.
Stackhouse maintained that the statements of Morlock and other soldiers were riddled with inconsistencies. He suggested that all the deaths may have been the result of legitimate battlefield actions, or "it is just as likely that Morlock was responsible for all these (alleged murders)."
If the Army moves forward with a court-martial, Stackhouse suggested that the numerous charges facing other soldiers who might serve as witnesses and the reluctance of so many platoon members to testify could complicate efforts to prosecute Gibbs.
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