JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington — The ringleader of a rogue US army unit accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport treated the locals like "savages," a court martial heard.
The so-called "kill team" led by Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs was "out of control," prosecutors added as grisly photos of soldiers posing with a corpse were shown in court.
Gibbs, who sat expressionless in a tiny courtroom where the week-long case is being heard, also allegedly brandished fingers cut off dead bodies in a failed attempt to silence members of his team.
The 26-year-old faces life in prison if convicted on charges including three counts of premeditated murder, in a scandal that has threatened Abu Ghraib-style embarrassment for the US military.
Gibbs, the fourth member of the rogue unit to face court martial, is accused of staging killings between January and May 2010 to make them look like legitimate combat casualties.
Jeremy Morlock, described as Gibbs' "right hand man," said his former boss had frequent conversations about "drop weapons," or weapons found on the battlefield which could be planted on a body.
"He had a general disdain for Afghans, and called them savages," Morlock -- who agreed to testify against Gibbs as part of a deal in which he pled guilty in March -- told the court martial, expected to last a week.
Morlock told how Gibbs took over the platoon, stationed in volatile Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, in November 2009, after its previous leader suffered serious injuries in a roadside bomb attack.
"We talked about payback," Morlock said, adding that the first "opportunity" took place on January 15, 2010 during a patrol of a village called La Mohammad Kalay.
Morlock said he and another soldier, Private Andrew Holmes, came across a teenage farmer alone in a field. They waved him over, and when he approached Morlock threw a grenade, and Holmes opened fire to make it look like a real firefight.
Photographs of the boy's bloody corpse were shown to the jurors, a five-member military panel. One of the pictures showed Morlock posing with the lifeless body.The second alleged killing occurred on