Military Panel Finds Leader of Rogue US "Kill Team" Guilty

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 6:20 PM EST

[UPDATE: On Thursday, ex-Army staff sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of the notorious "Kill Team," was found guilty of three murders and a total of fifteen criminal charges. The murders carry a minimum sentence of life with parole, and a maximum of life imprisonment. The jury came to the decision after four hours of deliberation.]

On Wednesday, a military panel began deliberations in the trial of 26-year-old former Army staff sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged head of the "Kill Team," a rogue American platoon charged with drug-addled sport killings of civilians in the Maiwand District of Afghanistan's Kandahar Province in 2010.

Details of the accusations became widely available last March after Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone published reports that included previously censored photos of the killing spree. When weighing the torture porn aspects of the incident—the mutilation, the gleeful posing with the victims, the body parts harvested for personal souvenirs—it almost seems like the accused were out to confirm every bad claim ever made by Islamist propagandists.

As tragic and grotesque as the murders were, there is some small comfort in knowing that there was no grand government/military cover-up to be found, and that this wasn't a duplicate of the type of systemic "rot at the top" that marked the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Furthermore, with several of his co-conspirators having already pled guilty and agreed to testify against him, Gibbs' trial looks like it's headed towards a tidy conclusion. The prosecution's trove of photographic evidence and the numerous eyewitness accounts of the atrocities meant Gibbs' defense hinged mainly on dubious credibility attacks and O.J.-style reasonable doubt. AFP reports:

As well as attacking [Private Jeremy] Morlock's statements, defense attorney Phil Stackhouse spent over two hours pointing out discrepancies in the evidence...[to] the five-soldier panel.

One of the largest discrepancies revolved around the barrel length of an automatic weapon allegedly "dropped" on a victim to make the killing appear justified.

The prosecution alleges that the AK-47-type gun was stuffed into Gibbs's backpack, but the defense said it was too big to fit in the closed pack, casting doubt on whether Gibbs could have used his pack to conceal the weapon.

So, in what has been called "the most egregious case of atrocities US military personnel are accused of committing in the 10 years of war in Afghanistan," a key component of the defense's argument simply amounts to, "If the gun don't fit, you must acquit."

Closing arguments have been delivered and a decision by the five-soldier jury is expected as early as Thursday when the court martial resumes.

Here's some background on the trial from Voice of America: