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Originally published Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:38 PM

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Hearing set for soldier in war-crimes case

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a key figure in a platoon accused of Afghanistan war crimes, will face a pretrial hearing Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Gibbs' charges include allegedly murdering three Afghan civilians, assaulting a fellow soldier and the possession of human body parts.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a squad leader in a platoon under investigation for Afghanistan war crimes, faces a pretrial hearing next week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Army officials announced Friday.

Gibbs, a key figure in the case, is charged with crimes that include the murder of three Afghan men, assaulting a fellow soldier and possessing body parts from corpses.

Gibbs served with the 5th Brigade 2nd Infantry Division, and assumed a platoon squad-leader position last November. In the weeks that followed, Gibbs allegedly organized a team of soldiers willing to carry out random executions and then place weapons by the corpses to make the killings appear to be legitimate battlefield deaths.

The pretrial Article 32 hearing that begins Tuesday will help Army commanders decide whether there is enough evidence to conduct a court-martial.

If convicted on all charges, Gibbs, a 26-year-old soldier who served three tours of duty in combat zones, could face a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

In a meeting with Army investigators in May, Gibbs said all the killings he was involved in were the result of combat. He said any suggestions to the contrary were "offensive."

In addition to Gibbs, four other soldiers have been charged with involvement in one or more of the three murders.

Seven other soldiers have been charged with lesser crimes, including personal possession of photos of human casualties, illegal drug use and assault.

Much of the evidence against Gibbs is summarized in an Army investigative report, which indicates that six platoon members named the staff sergeant as the man who organized a team to kill unarmed Afghans.

Gibbs also is accused of striking another soldier who had informed on members of the platoon smoking hashish. Gibbs allegedly threw two human fingers down on the ground and threatened that soldier with death, according to statements from other soldiers cited in the Army investigative report.

As part of their investigation, Army agents also have tried to gain more documentation of an incident from Gibb's 2004-2005 tour in Iraq. In a conversation with Spc. Jeremy Morlock, Gibbs allegedly claimed to have killed members of an Iraqi family traveling in a car.

Gibbs has been held by the Army in pretrial confinement in Buckley, Pierce County.

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In Billings, Mont., some have rallied to his defense.

"I have experienced a lot of good kids, and Calvin was one of them," wrote Mary Mattheis, who worked as a crosswalk guard at a school Gibbs attended, in a letter to the editor published in The Billings Gazette. "We need to remember what war does to our American soldiers and need to pray for all of them and not judge what has happened to Calvin and company until we hear both sides of the story. They are all going through a lot."

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

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