11 Nov 2011

Leader of US 'kill team' in Afghanistan convicted

5:15 pm on 11 November 2011

A United States military court has convicted an American soldier on three counts of premeditated murder as the leader of a rogue "kill team" in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Calvin Gibbs faced 15 charges over the killing of three unarmed men. The killings occurred during routine patrols in Kandahar province in early 2010.

The 26-year-old from Billings, Montana, admitted to cutting and keeping fingers from corpses as war trophies, but said he was returning enemy fire and did not set out to kill.

Three of the co-defendants in the case pleaded guilty, and two testified against him, the BBC reports.

Prosecutors told the jury that Gibbs and the other soldiers dropped weapons by the bodies to make them appear to be combatants.

Platoon 'out of control'

The investigation initially began as a wider inquiry into 5th Stryker Brigade, the unit Gibbs deployed with to Afghanistan.

The platoon was "out of control", a prosecutor said, with members smoking hash, photographing Afghan remains and beating a soldier who reported the drug use.

Gibbs took the stand in his own defence during the seven-day court-martial, saying he kept fingers off the killed Afghans because he was "disassociated" during combat and it was "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot".

In March 2011, photographs were published showing the soldiers posing with the bloody corpses of Afghan civilians they had just killed.

The images, described by the US Army as "disturbing and in striking contrast to the standards and values of the US Army" prompted the army to apologise for the distress they caused.