An American army staff sergeant has been sentenced to nine months in prison for attacks on Afghan civilians. The case is one of 12 against soldiers in Washington State. Five soldiers face charges of premeditated murder. The cases are among the most serious since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Staff Sergeant Robert Stevens, an army medic, pleaded guilty to charges of firing on Afghan civilians, throwing a grenade from his vehicle during a convoy, making false statements and dereliction of duty. He pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy.
Army spokeswoman Major Kathleen Turner says the judge accepted the plea. "And then at the end of the day, he was sentenced to nine months in confinement, a reduction [in rank] to E-1 or private, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances," he said. "As part of his plea agreement, he was agreed to testify in the rest of the cases that come up for trial."
Stevens' nine-month sentence is far less than the term of 18 months or more that prosecutors had sought.
The 12 soldiers were members of the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Stryker combat brigade in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Five face charges of premeditated murder in the legal proceedings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma.
The most serious charges are against Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, described by prosecutors as leading a kill squad and ordering his soldiers to murder Afghan civilians. Earlier testimony described a rogue unit that mutilated bodies and collected fingers and bones from corpses as trophies.
Stevens said in court Wednesday that Gibbs ordered him to shoot two farmers, and that he shot in their direction, but deliberately missed. Staff Sergeant Gibbs has said he is innocent. He faces three counts of premeditated murder and other charges.
The 12 soldiers together face a total of more than 70 charges.
In September, the Army held a hearing for Specialist Jeremy Morlock. Of the five soldiers charged with murder, Major Turner says Morlock is the only one yet to be referred to court martial, and that it is still early in the process.
"We are waiting for a determination from the investigating officer and a recommendation from the convening authority on whether or not those cases go to general court martial. It's just a matter of process with the military justice system," he said.
She says the military justice system, like the civilian system, assumes that the accused are innocent unless proven guilty. She says the first court martial will probably not take place for several months.