Key evidence in Stryker war crimes case remains secret

Tacoma News TribuneJanuary 16, 2011 

TACOMA, Wash. — From video-taped confessions to written sworn statements to voluminous investigative reports, little information has remained concealed as the Army held hearings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for 12 Stryker soldiers accused of war crimes and misconduct in Afghanistan.

Yet a few documents and images are under wraps as legal proceedings unfold for the soldiers in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five of the men are accused of murdering three civilians last year, crimes that drew international headlines about an Army “kill team” slaughtering Afghans for fun.

The restricted documents and images include:

• About 60 images of Afghan casualties that were seized from some of the defendants. Some images reportedly show soldiers posing with dead Afghans as if the dead were hunting trophies, according to testimony in court.

• Official service photos of Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens. Gibbs is charged with all three murders and is awaiting a court-martial. Stevens pleaded guilty last month to shooting at unarmed Afghans and lying about the incident.

• An investigation into Gibbs’ conduct on his two previous deployments to Iraq. The Army Criminal Investigation Command launched the review amid complaints that Gibbs was involved in suspicious killings prior to his deployment in Afghanistan. Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Christopher Grey said the review is not complete, and will not be released out of concern that it could impact the case.

• Pretrial agreements signed by Stevens and Spc. Emmitt Quintal that limit their time in prison and require them to testify to certain facts at upcoming hearings. The News Tribune submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Stevens’ agreement. It was rejected on the grounds that the Army is still investigating the suspected war crimes.

Outside observers say it’s in the Army’s interest to release the information so that the public understands the accused soldiers receive fair hearings.

“Transparency is critical to the public confidence in the administration of justice,” said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute for Military Justice. His organization has supported an appeal to release the casualty photos.

“It’s a self-inflicted wound when the military attempts to transact justice behind a veil,” Fidell said.

The Army counters that its investigation into suspected war crimes is not complete and it will not disclose documents in the case until then.

Nearly all of the statements and reports that have appeared in the media were leaked by defense attorneys who wanted to shape the public’s perception of their clients.

The push-and-pull reflects differences in how military courts operate compared with their civilian counterparts.

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