The US Army staff sergeant in charge of the notorious “Kill Team” in Afghanistan admitted in court on Monday to cutting the fingers off of the corpses of three Afghan civilians as trophies, but denied foreknowledge of a series of premeditated murders of Afghan civilians last year.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was the senior-most soldier in the 5th Stryker Brigade in Kandahar province, the army unit that planned and committed executions of multiple innocent, unarmed Afghan civilians, framing the dead as having been a threat, boasting about their kills, and mutilating their corpses.
Gibbs has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges ranging from murder to taking the fingers as bloody mementos. He maintains not only that he was told the Afghans killed were insurgents, but that the other five soldiers charged as part of the “Kill Team” are conspiring against him to shift the blame.
One of his comrades described Gibbs as “evil incarnate,” and alleged that he rallied his unit and encouraged them to kill civilians. Another in the unit, Corporal Jeremy Morlock, who tossed a grenade at an unarmed 15 year old civilian Afghan and then shot the boy repeatedly at close range with a machine gun, was sentenced in March to 24 years in prison. He is eligible for parole in 7 years.
The court considering the Gibbs case was shown graphic pictures of the “Kill Team” posing with their dead and smiling. They also murdered an unarmed man who may have been either deaf or mentally challenged. The man had half his skull blown off, and one member of the kill team collected it after the incident and carried it around as a trophy souvenir.
Gibbs’s comrades have “portrayed him as an imposing sociopath with little respect for life — a man who gunned down dogs without provocation, threatened fellow soldiers and who tallied his kills with skull tattoos on his calves,” according to the Associated Press. He is said to have commonly referred to his previous killings, like in Iraq when he fired on a car that refused to stop at a checkpoint, only to later learn that the vehicle was carrying an innocent Iraqi family. He tallied his kills with skull tattoos on his calf.
According to the Rolling Stone article that exposed these crimes to the public, “staged killings were an open topic of conversation” within the platoon, and the “Kill Team” had “‘a reputation,’ a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. ‘They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it.’”