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Alleged 'kill team' leader in court

Nov. 10, 2010 at 10:15 AM   |   Comments

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Nov. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army staff sergeant accused of leading a "kill team" that slew Afghan civilians made his first appearance in a military courtroom in Washington state.

During Tuesday's pre-trial proceeding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, prosecutors outlined their case against Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont., whom they said led a team of soldiers that killed three unarmed Afghan men, stowed body parts and shot photos of each other posing with victims from January through May, The Washington Post reported.

While the Army hasn't disclosed a motive, other soldiers charged in the case indicated they acted because they thought they could get away with it.

Four other soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, also are charged with murders. Most of the defendants pegged Gibbs as the ringleader, saying he planned the attacks, planted evidence to cover them up and intimidated other unit members to keep quiet, among other things, the Post said.

In the Article 32 hearing Tuesday, military prosecutors laid out the charges against Gibbs, including three counts of murder, conspiracy, dereliction of duty, assault with a dangerous weapon and attempting to impede an investigation. An Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing in which a military judge will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial.

Lead prosecutor Capt. Andre Leblanc said Gibbs persuaded others to join his "kill team" soon after he was assigned to the platoon in November 2009.

"That's when things start going south, that's when people start getting killed, that's when he forms his team," Leblanc said. "He wraps these soldiers up in acts of unspeakable cruelty and indifference."

Phillip Stackhouse, Gibbs's civilian lawyer, has argued the killings were combat-related and were justified.

On Tuesday, Stackhouse questioned the thoroughness of the Army's investigation and questioned why Army investigators didn't interview potential Afghan eyewitnesses in one of the alleged killings.

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