Pfc. Justin Stoner said he knew he was in for a beating when seven of his Stryker platoon mates showed up at his living quarters in Afghanistan just days after he raised concerns about drug use in their unit.
“When you go say something like that, word gets around,” said Stoner, a key whistleblower who testified in court for the first time Thursday.
He spoke at a pretrial hearing for Spc. Adam Kelly, a 26-year-old soldier from Montesano who allegedly participated in the assault on Stoner in May. Stoner said the soldiers unleashed a torrent of punches and kicks while they shouted at him, calling him a “rat.”
The beating triggered an investigation that resulted in misconduct charges against 12 of Stoner’s platoon mates in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five are accused of murdering civilians and are awaiting possible trials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Stoner contends the soldiers who assaulted him suspected that his initial complaint would draw more scrutiny to the platoon and reveal unjustified killings. That’s why his comrades wanted to intimidate him from speaking with officers, Stoner said.
“Everyone was worried it would progress to other things the platoon had done,” he said.
Stoner has refused to testify at Article 32 hearings for several of the other accused soldiers. On Thursday, it was revealed that he has an immunity deal that requires him to take the witness stand from this point forward. He could have been charged with drug use based on a sworn statement from one of his fellow soldiers.
His testimony is important because two of the soldiers facing murder charges – Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and Spc. Jeremy Morlock – allegedly participated in the May assault.
Stoner also had a look at severed fingers Gibbs allegedly took from Afghan corpses. The private says Gibbs showed them to him when Gibbs and Morlock returned to Stoner’s room a couple hours after the assault.
Gibbs “started off calm and almost polite, saying he’s sorry that had to happen” when he returned carrying something wrapped in cloth, Stoner recalled.
“He’s playing with this cloth while he was doing it and right when he’s done, he just rolls out these fingers and he says, ‘I’d hate for you to wind up like this guy.’”
Prosecutors drew out those threats to argue that the assault on Stoner was “not a normal fight in the barracks.”
“Pvt. Stoner was trying to report misconduct in his platoon and Spc. Kelly and his platoon mates sought to stop him, and they assaulted him,” prosecutor Capt. Dre Leblanc said.
Stoner testified that Kelly kicked him in the genitals, punched him and spat in his face.
Kelly has admitted as much in sworn and recorded statements that have been leaked to the media. He is not among the accused killers.
His attorney, Capt. Scott Crivelli, acknowledged that Kelly participated in the beating, but argued that Kelly was not a part of a conspiracy to intimidate Stoner. Without that intent, Crivelli argues that Kelly should not be punished in the military’s highest court – the general court-martial. Crivelli says Kelly should face a lighter sentence at what’s called a special court-martial.
“It seems to be more of a retribution-type act rather than trying to impede an investigation,” Crivelli said.
Stoner lent some weight to that argument when he distinguished between the lower-ranking soldiers like Kelly who participated in the assault and the noncommissioned officers who he said initiated the beating.
They were Staff Sgts. David Bram and Gibbs. Bram is awaiting a court-martial trial centered on his alleged role in assaulting Stoner. Gibbs is accused of murdering three civilians and keeping body parts he collected from Afghan corpses. Commanders have not yet ruled whether Gibbs will go through a court martial.
Bram and Gibbs “had their full intent,” Stoner said. “The rest of the guys didn’t have a clue it would get to that point.”
Stoner also said he believes his platoon leaders – Lt. Stefan Moye and 1st Sgt. Justin Ditmer – sanctioned the beating when they disclosed Stoner’s identity as the source of charges that soldiers had been smoking hashish at the base. Moye has denied sharing Stoner’s name with enlisted soldiers; Ditmer has said he named Stoner when he told his squad leaders about the allegations. That group included Bram and Gibbs.
Moye and Ditmer “basically said, ‘we’ll turn our heads’” to an assault, Stoner said in court.
Neither Moye nor Ditmer faces criminal charges.
Kelly’s hearing, which started and ended Thursday, was heard by investigating officer Maj. Troy Reitter. Lewis-McChord commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti will later determine whether Kelly should face a court-martial trial.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 firstname.lastname@example.org