January 6, 2011 / 4:45 AM / 9 years ago

Soldier gets hard labor in Afghan abuse case

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. Army corporal was sentenced to 90 days of hard labor and a bad conduct discharge on Wednesday after pleading guilty to keeping war souvenir photos of Afghan civilians, beating a platoon member and smoking hashish.

Corporal Emmitt Quintal, 22, of Weston, Oregon, agreed to testify against other soldiers charged with murdering Afghan civilians under a plea agreement in the Army’s second court-martial of the most serious prosecutions of alleged war atrocities by U.S. military deployed in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001.

U.S. Army Judge Lieutenant Colonel Kwasi Hawks sentenced Quintal to 90 days of hard labor at Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with rank reduced to private.

As part of the plea, hammered out during the last month, Quintal must testify “in other trials that the government asks him to do,” Army spokeswoman Kathleen Turner said.

After the hard labor, Quintal will be discharged but not jailed. He forfeits no pay.

The Stryker Brigade cases, with a reported 4,000 sensitive photos of Afghan casualties that remain under lock and public seal, have drawn comparisons to the inflammatory Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq in 2004.

Five of the 12 soldiers charged in the Stryker Brigade cases are accused of premeditated murder and of keeping highly sensitive photos of dead Afghan civilians as war trophies.

‘HE SHOWED REMORSE’

Quintal, charged in the probe of what prosecutors have described as a rogue infantry unit run amok, waived his right to a preliminary hearing. He is expected to testify against Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, said to be the ringleader of those charged.

Gibbs is one of five soldiers charged with murder in three separate slayings of Afghan villagers whose deaths allegedly were later staged as legitimate combat casualties.

Seven other soldiers, including Quintal, were charged with lesser offenses that included beating Private Justin Stoner, an alleged whistle-blower who exposed the platoon’s hashish use.

Hawks convicted Quintal of conspiracy to commit assault and battery, unlawfully striking another soldier, use of hashish while deployed in Afghanistan, and wrongfully photographing and possessing photos of human casualties.

Quintal faced a potentially harsher sentence of imprisonment up to 12 months, three pay-grade reductions from E-4 to E-1 private, the lowest rank in the Army; and forfeiture of two-thirds base pay per month for one year.

“He came forward and he showed remorse,” Turner said, adding that Quintal in court was “respectful, honest and forthright. He acted like a soldier.”

Staff Sergeant Robert Stevens, 25, an Army medic from Portland, Oregon, was earlier sentenced to nine months in prison on December 1 after pleading guilty to shooting at unarmed Afghan farmers. Stevens also agreed to testify against other soldiers accused of terrorizing civilians.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan

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