5 years for role in Afghan deaths

The Army on Friday won its 11th conviction in its investigation of war crimes involving Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers, securing a guilty verdict against a sergeant who could have halted the wrongdoing that unfolded but instead tried to cover it up.

Staff Sgt. David Bram, 27, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was found guilty of assaulting the private who blew the whistle on drug use in their platoon, soliciting another junior soldier to join him in a scheme to murder Afghan civilians, impeding an Army investigation and disobeying a general order by possessing photos of casualties.

A five-soldier jury found Bram not guilty of abusing Afghan detainees and planting an AK-47 magazine near a corpse after a shooting in January 2010.

Bram appeared resigned to his sentence. He cried during a statement to the jury after his verdict was read, imploring for mercy so he could reunite with his two children.

“After seeing my children ripped away from me for the sins of their father, I truly do understand the weight of what I’ve done,” he said.

Bram’s conviction means there is only one soldier from the platoon left to face a jury. Spc. Michael Wagnon, one of five defendants charged with murder, is expected to have his court-martial in January.

Bram has attended trials for many of his 11 platoonmates who came home accused of misconduct during their deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

He was a well-liked, well-respected soldier. Five soldiers from his company sat in court when his verdict was read, as did his wife.

“I would take Bram over 100 regular soldiers,” Sgt. 1st Class Darrell Rowe said.

Yet Bram didn’t live up to his responsibility as a noncommissioned officer leading an infantry squad during its deployment to southern Afghanistan last year, prosecutors argued.

“He just started down a slippery slope of Sgt. Bram doing whatever Sgt. Bram felt like,” prosecutor Capt. Jeremy Scholtes said.

Bram said he was frustrated by an enemy that “wouldn’t fight us, they’d just ambush us with” improvised explosives.

He gave into that fear and anger by looking the other way when soldiers picked up “off the books” weapons during their missions. He took a photograph with an Afghan who was killed by an Apache helicopter, sending a message to the soldiers he led that it was acceptable to pose in images with dead bodies despite an order barring that behavior.

Bram also concocted a plan to use an illicit AK-47 in a scheme to kill suspected Taliban who’d race up to Stryker infantry vehicles and slip away before soldiers could catch them. Bram had no way of knowing if these motorcycle riders were enemies, so his plan was considered a plot to murder innocents.

Four of his platoonmates have been convicted of murdering Afghans in scenarios such as the one he outlined to then-Spc. Emmitt Quintal to take out the motorcycle riders.

But Quintal said they didn’t have a chance to use the AK-47 in question because Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs carried out his own murder scheme with the gun while Bram was on leave. Gibbs, the purported mastermind, was given a life sentence earlier this month for three murders and other crimes.

Bram’s friends and family members told the jury that the crimes were out of character for the young man they knew growing up in Vacaville, Calif., fishing on the San Francisco Bay delta.

“This is not my brother that I know. It’s a little shocking,” Matthew Bram said.

Staff Sgt. Bram said he understood his misconduct tarnished the legacy of his brigade and enabled the wrongdoing that resulted in 11 of his platoonmates facing criminal charges.

“It was the actions of a few bad apples, myself included, that defaced the good work the (5th Brigade) did in Afghanistan,” he said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646