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US soldier to face court-martial in Afghan killings

By Reuters

A US Army staff sergeant was ordered on Friday to be tried by a military court to face charges that include murdering three unarmed Afghan civilians, keeping body parts as grisly war trophies and beating a whistle-blower who told superiors about widespread hashish use in his unit.

Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, 25, is one of five soldiers from the Stryker Brigade charged with murder. Twelve soldiers in all face charges in the most serious prosecutions of alleged war atrocities by U.S. military deployed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

Gibbs, of Billings, Montana, was ordered to stand trial by Major General Curtis Scaparrotti, commanding officer of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. No date was set.

The Stryker Brigade cases, with some 4,000 photographs sealed from public view including some reportedly of soldiers posing with Afghan casualties, have drawn comparisons to the inflammatory Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq in 2004.

Gibbs faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without parole for charges that include premeditated murder in the deaths of three unarmed Afghan civilians, including a cleric, in the Afghan villages of La Muhammad Kalay in January 2010, Khari Kleyl in February 2010 and Qualaday in May 2010, according to court documents.

Gibbs allegedly kept fingers, severed with medical shears, and displayed them at platoon mates to intimidate them.

He faces a dozen other charges that include keeping body parts such as teeth, finger and leg bones as war trophies.

The cases began as an investigation into hashish use by members of what was then known as the 5th Stryker Brigade, but grew into a probe of what prosecutors described as an infantry unit run amok.

Phillip Stackhouse, a civilian attorney defending Gibbs, has described Gibbs' involvement as legitimate combat killings, He was not immediately available for comment on the order.