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Originally published September 8, 2010 at 9:35 PM | Page modified September 8, 2010 at 9:57 PM

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Stryker soldiers allegedly took corpses' fingers

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses. The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

The most serious charges involve the alleged slayings of three Afghans in January, February and May. Five soldiers, all stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are accused of involvement in one or more of the murders. They face penalties that range up to life imprisonment or death.

These men, as well as seven others, face a range of other charges relating to using hashish, obstructing justice, possessing human body parts and retaining mortar rounds for personal use.

The documents foreshadow a marathon legal battle in the months ahead that will pit the accused against Army prosecutors who have pieced together charges from sworn statements gathered from unit soldiers.

In the weeks ahead, each soldier is expected to appear before an Article 32 hearing, where evidence is reviewed to decide whether to proceed with court-martials.

Some soldiers, in conversations with families, attorneys and investigators, have vigorously rejected the charges filed against them.

The soldiers all served in Afghanistan with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, (since renamed the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division), which had troops stationed in Kandahar province.

According to the charging documents, the case began when a soldier blew the whistle on the use of hashish. The informant was allegedly kicked, hit, spit upon, choked and threatened with death in an early May assault involving seven soldiers.

The informant then offered tips that triggered the broader criminal investigation.

The most serious charges have been filed against Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., who allegedly participated in all three slayings. He is also accused of a March assault with firearms on three Afghan men. It is unclear from charging documents whether that assault injured any of the Afghans.

In addition, Gibbs is charged with possessing finger bones, leg bones and a tooth taken from Afghan corpses, as well as soliciting another soldier to cut the finger off a corpse.

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He also is charged with threatening to injure Spc. Adam Winfield by stating, "I'm going to send you home by dropping a tow bar on you," or words to that effect.

Additionally, he is accused of showing fingers removed from a corpse to the informant, whom he allegedly assaulted.

Gibbs has told investigators he is innocent of any crimes.

Army investigators also have built an obstruction-of-justice case against some soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens, of Portland, for example, charged with involvement in the March assault against three Afghan men, claimed an enemy combatant had thrown a grenade at a Stryker vehicle.

Charging documents allege his statement was "totally false."

Army investigators have built a substantial portion of their case upon the statements of Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who is alleged to have participated in some of the crimes.

His defense attorney, Michael Waddington, told The Seattle Times in an earlier interview that Morlock suffered four concussions during his tour of duty and was in the process of being medically evacuated — and taking numerous prescription drugs — when questioned.

Waddington said he will attempt to have Morlock's statements barred from introduction into the court proceedings.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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