National Media Yawns at Soldiers Convicted of Murdering Civilians in Afghanistan

Have you noticed how the Abu Ghraib-obsessed media are no longer really  interested in tales of savagery from American soldiers...even when court martials find them guilty? Wouldn’t that make it seem that their concern for human rights is only tender when there’s a political usefulness to the story? Only CBS offered anchor briefs, on both Evening News and The Early Show.

Associated Press reported on the “kill squad” conviction of soldier Calvin Gibbs for civilian murders in Afghanistan -- which would top your naked pyramid-building -- the latest of ten soldiers convicted in the 5th Stryker Brigade, and the word “Obama” was nowhere in the piece:

A U.S. soldier accused of exhorting his bored underlings to slaughter three civilians for sport was convicted of murder, conspiracy and other charges Thursday in one of the most gruesome cases to emerge from the Afghan war.

The military jury sentenced Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., to life in prison, but he will be eligible for parole in less than nine years.

Gibbs was the highest ranking of five soldiers charged in the deaths of the unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province early last year.

You can't say there's not grist for good television in this story, or that the same Time magazine that put the Haditha incident on its cover in the Bush years (when soldiers were not convicted)  couldn't do the same here. (Let's not bet on a Time cover story on Friday.) Only CBS Evening News gave the conviction any air time, just 48 words:

SCOTT PELLEY: An American soldier was convicted today of murder and conspiracy. It`s a story that David Martin broke. Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs  was charged with killing unarmed Afghan civilians. Gibbs admitted cutting off the fingers of the corpses to keep as war trophies. He faces life in prison.

Indeed, Martin offered two stories on Gibbs in the fall of 2010. None of these made any mention of Obama. CBS news anchor Terrell Brown offered another 48-word brief on Friday morning: 

TERRELL BROWN: U.S. Army Sergeant Calvin Gibbs has sentenced to life in prison for war atrocities in Afghanistan. A military  jury found Gibbs guilty of murdering unarmed Afghan civilians for sport and then cutting off their fingers for trophies. He's the highest-ranking of the five soldiers charged in the deaths.

The PBS NewsHour offered nothing...but in their news roundup gave almost two minutes to the English parliament investigating Fox News boss Rupert Murdoch in the phone-hacking scandal there. The ITN reporter they used, Tom Bradby, concluded "many of the pillars of the Murdoch empire are now trying to tear each other to pieces." There was no word on any finger amputations.

If the media were chest-thumping leftists interested in making American soldiers look bad, or making a case that America violates human rights whenever it's involved in military intervention, they would love this story. But apparently, it's more partisan than that. It depends on which party's president is in power:

Three of the co-defendants pleaded guilty, and two of them testified against him, portraying him as an imposing, bloodthirsty leader who in one instance played with a victim's corpse and moved the mouth like a puppet. Gibbs' lawyer insisted they conspired to blame him for what they had done and told the five jurors the case represented "the ultimate betrayal of an infantryman."

The jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting him on all charges. The sentencing hearing began immediately after the verdict was announced, with a prosecutor, Maj. Andre LeBlanc, asking for the maximum, life without parole. He told jurors that Gibbs was supposed to protect the Afghan people but instead caused many to lose trust in Americans, hurting the mission. LeBlanc noted that Gibbs repeatedly called the Afghans "savages."

"Ladies and gentlemen, there is the savage -- Staff Sgt. Gibbs is the savage," he said.

The military jury sentenced Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., to life in prison, but he will be eligible for parole in less than nine years.

Gibbs was the highest ranking of five soldiers charged in the deaths of the unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province early last year...

The investigation into the 5th Stryker Brigade unit exposed widespread misconduct -- a platoon that was "out of control," in the words of a prosecutor, Maj. Robert Stelle. The wrongdoing included hash-smoking, the collection of illicit weapons, the mutilation and photography of Afghan remains, and the gang-beating of a soldier who reported the drug use.

In all, 12 soldiers were charged; all but two have now been convicted.

The probe also raised questions about the brigade's permissive leadership culture and the Army's mechanisms for reporting misconduct.

After the first killing, one soldier, then-Spc. Adam Winfield, alerted his parents and told them more killings were planned, but his father's call to a sergeant at Lewis-McChord relaying the warning went unheeded. Winfield later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the last killing, saying he took part because he believed Gibbs would kill him if he didn't.

Print coverage Friday was pretty perfunctory. The New York Times published a 784-word story on A-16. The Washington Post had 384 words on A-16. These reports found no space for a wider evaluation of the Army or the Obama administration.

(Hat tip: Gary Hall)

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis