Afghan 'kill team' leader Gibbs was framed, defense says

The (Tacoma) News TribuneNovember 1, 2011 

Alleged Army “kill team” leader Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs would celebrate whenever he or his soldiers shot Afghan men during their deployment with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade last year, his attorney acknowledged Monday.

Gibbs would pose for photos and even clip body parts from the victims as “war trophies,” he said.

But Gibbs didn’t murder anyone, his attorney insisted, rejecting the Army’s case that the soldier from Montana persuaded four soldiers to join him in killing three civilians in combat-like scenarios they created.

Instead, defense attorney Phil Stackhouse charged that the Army’s witnesses framed the squad leader. Gibbs has pleaded not guilty to the three murder charges and 13 other offenses.

“What you’re seeing in this case is the ultimate betrayal of an infantryman,” Stackhouse said. He argued that as far as Gibbs knew at the time, the shootings took place in legitimate combat.

Gibbs’ court-martial opened Monday, signaling the end of an 18-month Army investigation that resulted in criminal charges against 11 of his platoon mates. Nine have been convicted at previous trials, and three have admitted to taking part in staged killings.

The 6-foot-4-inch soldier sat stoically Monday, with three family members sitting behind him in court at Lewis-McChord. He faces life in prison if convicted of any of the murder charges.

The case against Gibbs has drawn international attention to the base south of Tacoma because he’s accused of leading some of the most serious purported war crimes to emerge since the U.S. attacked the Taliban stronghold a decade ago.

Prosecutors cast Gibbs as a Charles Manson-like figure who planted the seeds by bragging that it would be easy to get away with murder on a battlefield. All you had to do was to shoot someone in hostile territory and claim you were attacked, prosecutors claim Gibbs said.

The Army contends scenarios along those lines unfolded at least three times under Gibbs’ watch in 3rd Platoon, B Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment.

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