Kill Team Soldier Gibbs Goes on Trial

Alleged ringleader faces justice. But what about the higher-ups who looked the other way?

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, is shown in this military courtroom sketch Credit: AP Photo/ Peter Millett

Opening statements were heard over the weekend at Joint Base Lewis-McChord at the court martial trial of Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the suspected ringleader of a self-described "Kill Team" of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, members of a Stryker Brigade who murdered innocent civilians for sport and, in some cases, mutilated their corpses.

Gibbs, described by prosecutors as a "sociopath," faces three charges of premeditated murder. He's also accused of beating up a fellow soldier to keep him quiet and possessing so-called "drop weapons" that could be planted on victims to give the appearance they were killed in a legitimate firefight. (In an added flourish, he reportedly kept severed fingers and leg bones as war mememtoes.)

So, justice is on its way to being served? Don't count on it. Here's Mark Boal, writing in Rolling Stone earlier this year, in an lid-blowing investigation of the Kill Team's activities,

Army prosecutors insist that blame for the killings rests with a soldier near the bottom of the Stryker Brigade's totem pole: Calvin Gibbs, a three-tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who served as a squad leader in 3rd Platoon. Morlock and five soldiers charged with lesser crimes have pleaded guilty in exchange for testifying against Gibbs, who faces life in prison for three counts of premeditated murder.

The thing is, Boal's reporting strongly suggests that senior officers knew about the Kill Team's exploits but looked the other way. The Army has shown little interest in investigating how far up the chain of command responsibility goes.

Here's Boal:

"'The Army wants Gibbs,'" says one defense lawyer. 'They want to throw him in jail and move on.' Gibbs insists that all three killings he took part in were 'legitimate combat engagements.' Three other low-level soldiers facing murder charges ... also maintain their innocence. As for the other men in Bravo Company, five have already been convicted of lesser crimes, including drug use, stabbing a corpse and [assault], and two more face related charges.  ...
"So far, though, no officers or senior officials have been charged in either the murders or the cover-up. Last October, the Army quietly launched a separate investigation, guided by Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty, into the critical question of officer accountability. But the findings of that inquiry, which was concluded last month, have been kept secret – and the Army refuses to say whether it has disciplined or demoted any of the commanders responsible for 3rd Platoon. Even if the commanding officers were not co-conspirators or accomplices in the crimes, they repeatedly ignored clear warning signs and allowed a lethally racist attitude to pervade their unit."

The Kill Team: How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians: Plus An Exclusive Look at the War Crimes Images the Pentagon Tried to Censor