Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Father: Army Ignored Complaints Of Afghan Slayings

Army Spc. Adam Winfield complained in Facebook messages to his father that he was being hounded by his platoon leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.

Gibbs was angry when Winfield failed to lock the hatch of his armored vehicle, so the sergeant gave him extra duty. Fed up, Winfield tapped out a message to his father, Chris, on a January day, complaining that his mistakes were minor compared to what Gibbs had done.

Chris Winfield says his son called Gibbs the "golden child of the platoon."

"He said the golden child can do no wrong. He can commit murder ... and get away with it and everybody seems fine with it."

The Army has now charged Gibbs with three murders. The charging documents allege the first murder occurred shortly before Winfield sent that message to his father. The Army says Gibbs tossed a grenade at an Afghan civilian and then ordered his soldiers to open fire, killing the man.

Gibbs' lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, says his client did nothing wrong, and that all the killings took place during combat and were justified.

Chris Winfield didn't hear from his son again until February. This time, says the father, his son's messages were more desperate.

"He was kind of torn, 'Do I do the right thing? Do I put my life on the line? Do I say something to somebody? What do I do?'" says Chris Winfield.

"I said, 'Is there anyone you can go to?' He said, 'No.' He said, 'Gibbs is watching my every move. He's already threatened to me that if I do anything he's going to do something to me.'"

Besides the murder charges against Gibbs, the Army also has charged him with threatening Winfield and urging Winfield to lie to investigators about drug use in the platoon.

After those messages from his son, Chris Winfield took it upon himself to get someone in the Army to listen. He left messages with an Army hotline. He spoke with a sergeant at Fort Lewis, Wash., where his son's unit -– the Stryker brigade — is based. That sergeant referred him to Army investigators, whom he called and left a message.

He then spoke with another sergeant at an incident command center at Fort Lewis who suggested his son report the incident after he gets home.

Chris Winfield recalls what the sergeant said: "Then he can turn the guy in safely and not worry about any repercussions."

"And I said, 'You've to go be kidding me.'"

Eric Montalvo, Winfield's lawyer and a retired Marine officer, says the system failed.

"All service members have a basic obligation that if they are in receipt of information about a crime, they're required to do something about it," he said.

Army officials say they are looking into why no one followed up on Chris Winfield's calls. It was after those calls, according to Army documents, that two more killings of Afghan civilians were committed by Gibbs and his soldiers: one in February; another in May.

Among those charged in the third alleged murder: Winfield, the same soldier who wrote his dad and alerted him to what was going on. The Army says Winfield shot at an unarmed Afghan man after Gibbs tossed a grenade.

Winfield's lawyer says his client was ordered to shoot by Gibbs, but aimed high.

"We were floored. I was shocked," says Chris Winfield. "If they had listened to me for one thing, my son would have never been arrested and two, there would have been two Afghans still alive," he says.

The Army finally did listen to Winfield, only after his son was charged. Army investigators went to his home in Florida to get a statement, the Facebook messages from his son and his phone log of calls to the Army.


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