Spc. Emmitt Quintal received a reduced sentence for crimes committed in Afghanistan after agreeing to testify against fellow soldiers accused of involvement in the murders of three Afghans. Quintal was sentenced to 90 days' hard labor, reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge for his drug use, assault on another soldier and possession of photos...

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — For Spc. Emmitt Quintal, smoking hashish in Afghanistan was a weekly ritual often accomplished with the aid of a pipe fashioned from a soda-pop can.

He started smoking in October 2009, just a few months into a yearlong deployment in Kandahar Province. He says the drug helped him unwind from patrols and the stress of seeing other soldiers injured in war.

“It was kind of an escape for the moment. Kind of clearing my head,” Quintal said Wednesday in a court-martial in which he was sentenced by an Army judge to 90 days’ hard labor, reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge for his drug use, assault on another soldier who blew the whistle on hashish smoking and possession of photos of corpses.

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Quintal’s sentence resulted from a plea agreement, enabling him to avoid a general court-martial where another soldier facing similar charges risks as much as 11 years in prison.

This is the second plea agreement in a war-crimes investigation of a dozen Lewis McChord-based soldiers who served in Afghanistan with the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Five of these soldiers are accused of involvement in the slaying of three Afghan civilians. The agreement compels Quintal to testify against some of these soldiers.

Quintal likely will be a witness against a major figure in the war-crimes investigation, Staff. Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a platoon squad leader charged with involvement in the three deaths. In a sworn statement he gave to investigators while still in Afghanistan, Quintal said that Gibbs formed a “kill team,” and that “the entire platoon had an idea of what Staff Sgt. Gibbs was doing but were afraid to say anything.”

But Quintal, in his statement, did not appear to have direct knowledge of the alleged murders. Some of his most detailed statements involved the use of hashish by what he allegedly said were more than a dozen members of the platoon.

Quintal is an Oregonian who joined the Army just a few days shy of his 18th birthday. He said he was struggling with marital problems and the stress of deployment as he first began smoking hashish in October.

Returning from a patrol in early May, he heard other soldiers talk about how one platoon member, Spc. Justin Stoner, had reported the hashish use and that platoon members soon would face drug tests. Then he saw his squad leader, Staff Sgt. David Bram, and several other soldiers hanging out in front of Stoner’s quarters, and was invited to join the group as they went inside.

“I felt under peer pressure at the point. I went into the room. I knew what we were doing was wrong,” Quintal said.

Stoner then was dragged to the ground, beaten with fists and kicked. Quintal contributed several of the kicks.

Less than an hour after the beating, Quintal returned to visit Stoner and express remorse, according to Stoner’s testimony Wednesday. In the following days, Quintal decided to cooperate with Army investigators in the broadening war-crimes investigation.

In December, another soldier who agreed to cooperate as a witness, Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens, received a reduced sentence of nine months of confinement for shooting at an unarmed Afghan and other crimes.

In an announcement Wednesday, Army officials appear to have reached a plea agreement with another soldier, Pfc. Ashton Moore, who faces a maximum of 30 days’ confinement and a reduction in rank to the lowest grade for his hashish use and involvement in the assault on Stoner.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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