After a week-long court-martial, a five-member military panel has convicted Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs of leading a rogue unit involved in "thrill-kills" of Afghan civilians. Gibbs was jailed for life after being convicted of three murders.
The military panel said he would serve a minimum of 10 years in jail before he is eligible for parole.
Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, 26, was the highest ranking soldier in a unit of five men charged with killing unarmed civilians for sport, allegedly to fight boredom, during patrols in Kandahar last year.
According to prosecutors, Calvin Gibbs and the rogue unit he led indulged in cutting body parts of their victims as trophies. National Post reports three members of his unit pleaded guilty to charges that have caused the U.S. Army considerable embarrassment. The prosecution argued, on grounds of seriousness of the crimes, that Gibbs should be refused parole. Major Dre Leblanc, for the prosecution, described Calvin Gibbs as a savage, but attorney Phil Stackhouse pleaded with the jury to consider that Gibbs has a wife and a young son.
National Post reports the prosecution, in closing arguments on Wednesday, dismissed claims Gibbs had made that his unit was responding to attacks when the civilians were killed. Major Robert Stelle, for the prosecution, said:
"This is a case about betrayal, the ultimate betrayal...[he]betrayed his folk, he betrayed his unit, and with the flag of his nation emblazoned across his chest, thousands of miles from home, he betrayed his nation."
The prosecution said Gibbs deliberately set up the civilians to justify the killings. He planted weapons on dead civilians so they would look like fighters, and removed fingers and teeth as trophies to show his colleagues.
Gibbs did not deny harvesting parts from dead bodies. He tried to convince the court that his victims had been killed in "genuine combat." He defended his practice of cutting body parts from victims:
“In my mind, it was like keeping the antlers off a deer you’d shoot… You have to come to terms with the things you’re doing."
National Post reports the defense tried to raise doubts about credibility of the men who pleaded guilty and received light sentences after they agreed to testify against Gibbs. In their testimony, according to The Washington Post, they portrayed Gibbs as a tyrant and bloodthirsty soldier. One of the men described an occasion in which Gibbs played with a dead body, moving the mouth like a puppet.
The Washington Post reports that investigations into the 5th Stryker Brigade to which the men belonged showed there had been widespread misconduct including marijuana smoking and abuse of civilians. The killings in Gibb's unit were revealed when one of the soldiers Adam Winfield, told his parents. When Winfield's father called a sergeant the information was ignored. Winfield, in the trial, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, saying he had feared repercussions if he did not co-operate with the unit.