Witness: Sergeant bragged of killing unarmed man

July 22, 2011 - 7:29 PM

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — A soldier accused of masterminding the murders of three Afghan civilians last year boasted about one of the killings, an Army medic testified Friday.

Pvt. Robert Stevens told an investigating officer during a hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle that Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont., acknowledged participating in the February 2010 killing, The News Tribune newspaper reported.

The victim has previously been described as a random civilian target, but Stevens, of Portland, Ore., testified that Gibbs said he suspected the unarmed man was involved in the Taliban and that Gibbs was "sick of picking him up and letting him go."

Stevens said Gibbs recounted how he fired off a couple rounds from an AK-47 he had illicitly obtained, kicked the weapon toward the Afghan, and then shot him with his Army-issued M4 rifle. The placement of the AK-47 near the victim was intended to make him appear to have been a combatant.

Those details generally back up an account of the shooting given by the government's key witness, Pvt. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska. Morlock has admitted being involved in all three killings and testified Thursday that it was Gibbs' idea to start killing civilians. Morlock has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Gibbs and Morlock are among five soldiers charged in the killings in Kandahar Province. Gibbs is also charged with keeping severed fingers from the dead and other misconduct, including leading others in beating up a soldier who reported drug use in the unit.

He denies the charges and maintains the killings were appropriate engagements.

Stevens has described himself as a close friend of Gibbs at the time of the killings and said that although he was in a different unit, Gibbs frequently suggested that Stevens join him on patrols. During one of those patrols, he said in a sworn statement previously given to investigators, Gibbs ordered him and others to fire at two unarmed men in a field. They missed.

"When SSG Gibbs called for us to fire I knew there was not a threat, and that there was no reason to shoot these guys," Stevens said in the statement. "I was extremely thankful to find out that we had not killed or wounded either of those two individuals, and I regret not trying to stop Staff Sgt. Gibbs from trying to kill innocent people."

Stevens pleaded guilty in December to charges stemming from that shooting and other misconduct allegations in a deal that called for him to serve nine months in prison, be demoted from staff sergeant to private, and testify against other defendants.

Stevens also said Gibbs had shown him a finger he claimed to have cut from the body of an Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police member killed by a roadside bomb, and that Gibbs illicitly collected weapons. Others claimed that Gibbs dropped such weapons near the bodies of civilians to make them appear to have been combatants.

The testimony Friday came as part of a preliminary hearing that will help determine what charges against Gibbs advance to a court martial in early October.

Gibbs' attorney sought to cast doubt on Stevens' testimony by citing his original statement to Army investigators. In that document, Stevens denied any knowledge of Gibbs' wrongdoing.

Stevens testified that he changed his story four days later when Army investigators told him — falsely — that Gibbs had confessed.

The hearing was expected to end Friday with testimony from six other soldiers.

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com