Carpenter Firm Representation of Stryker Combat Medic Accused of “War Crimes”

MILITARY

A combat medic pleaded guilty today to shooting at unarmed Afghans and lying to officers to cover his tracks, giving the Army its first conviction in its probe of Stryker soldiers who allegedly murdered civilians during their recent deployment to the Middle East.

THE TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE      STAFF WRITER ADAM ASHTON

Published: 12/02/10 6:21 am | Updated: 12/02/10 7:48 am

A combat medic pleaded guilty today to shooting at unarmed Afghans and lying to officers to cover his tracks, giving the Army its first conviction in its probe of Stryker soldiers who allegedly murdered civilians during their recent deployment to the Middle East.

Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens will serve nine months in a military prison without pay and be demoted to private. He’ll be allowed to stay in the Army even though prosecutors wanted him discharged.

He struck a plea agreement that reduced his sentence from the 27 years he had faced if he had been convicted of five charges of misconduct. That deal requires him to testify against his 11 codefendants from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five face murder charges.

Stevens, 25, sounded remorseful when he addressed the court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Nine witnesses at his court-martial before judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks described Stevens as an outstanding combat medic who had a bright future in the Army.

“The most important thing at this point in my life is taking the rest of the time I have and using that to make up for the things I’ve done in Afghanistan,” said Stevens, a seven-year Army veteran who grew up in Portland.

He’s in position to provide crucial testimony against Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who allegedly plotted to kill Afghan civilians and persuaded his comrades to help him execute the scenarios. Gibbs, 25, is accused of murdering three noncombatants between January and May during patrols from Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

Stevens said he feels an obligation to testify against Gibbs and others.

“It is the right thing to do,” he said.

Prosecutors balanced their success in obtaining Stevens’ testimony with arguments that the soldier had to be punished for his failure to live up to his responsibilities as a noncommissioned officer leading others in combat.

“It’s his job to set the standard,” argued prosecutor Capt. Dan Mazzone. “It’s his job to stop things like that from happening. He failed us. He failed his soldiers.”

Stevens pleaded guilt to four crimes: two counts of making false statements, dereliction of duty in keeping an “off the books” grenade, aggravated assault by shooting at the unarmed Afghans and wrongfully engaging in conduct likely to harm other soldiers. The Army dropped a charge that he participated in a conspiracy to harm Afghans.

It was up to Hawks to set the sentence.

Soldiers who served with Stevens were uniformly impressed by him. Most said he deserved another opportunity to show he learned from his errors.

“He’s a damn fine medic,” said 1st Sgt. Tim Schmidt, breaking into tears. “He made a mistake.”

One of the crimes Stevens committed, however, represented a devastating blow to his company’s morale.

Gibbs had given Stevens the “off-the-books” grenade in December. Rather than report it to superiors or dispose of it in so-called “amnesty boxes,” Stevens kept the weapon.

He tossed it out the back of a Stryker during a March convoy from his station at Kandahar Air Field to Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

Stevens called out that the convoy was under attack when the grenade exploded, and other soldiers fired their guns into a field. Fourteen of them were awarded combat badges for participating in the incident. Those badges are important because they show that the soldiers who wear them have come under fire and responded appropriately.

Stevens’ comrades had to relinquish the badges when they learned that he staged the incident. His superior officers said that news caused them to question their own judgment.

“It was pretty much absolute betrayal,” said Master Sgt. Mario Terenas, a 20-year Army veteran. “It has led me to question my want to stay in the Army.”

Stevens was a medic stationed in Kandahar who joined Gibbs’ platoon for a short stint in the spring. In that time, Stevens told investigators that Gibbs showed him fingers he collected from an Afghan corpse and brandished weapons he kept to plant on shooting victims.

Stevens said Gibbs gave the order to fire at the unarmed Afghans. Stevens said he regrets following the order.

“That’s another situation that I regret every day. That one I admit I have no excuse for. I did it. I screwed up,” he said.

Gibbs also described to Stevens an incident that resembles the second murder charge against Gibbs, according to a sworn statement obtained by The News Tribune. Stevens said Gibbs told him he fired an AK-47 at an Afghan man, then shot him with his Army-issued rifle. Gibbs told Stevens he planted the AK-47 on the Afghan to make it appear as if the Afghan had fired first.

That description matches one provided to investigators by Spc. Jeremy Morlock, who is accused of participating in that killing.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military

Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/12/01/1447286/stryker-soldier-pleads-guilty.html#ixzz170MvItPt

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