Monday, October 25, 2004

Superior Ordered soldier to push civilian into river

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- One of four soldiers charged with shoving two Iraqi civilians into the Tigris River where one of them drowned says his superior officers ordered up the incident and told him what to say to officials looking into the death, an Army investigator testified Wednesday.Fort Carson Soldier: I Was Ordered To Push Iraqis Off BridgeInvestigation Under Way Into Fatal Incident Over Tigris RiverPOSTED: 3:45 pm MDT July 28, 2004FORT CARSON, Colo. -- One of four soldiers charged with shoving two Iraqi civilians into the Tigris River where one of them drowned says his superior officers ordered up the incident and told him what to say to officials looking into the death, an Army investigator testified Wednesday.Spc. Terry Bowman said he "was told by his chain of command what version to give CID," Sgt. Irene Cintron of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) said during a teleconference from Iraq as the military convened a hearing to determine whether the soldiers will be court-martialed.Bowman said he had been ordered to push the men into the river, Cintron said. No names were disclosed, though three of the soldiers' commanders have received nonjudicial punishments for their roles in the incident. None of the punishments include jail time.Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins, 33, 1st Lt. Jack M. Saville, 24 and Sgt. Reggie Martinez, 24, are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Jan. 3 drowning death of a man identified by family members in Iraq as Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, 19.Bowman, 21, is charged with assault for allegedly pushing the second man into the river at the same time. That man, a cousin of Hassoun named Marwan Fadel Hassoun, 23, survived the incident and described what happened to The Associated Press several weeks ago.Marwan Hassoun said he tried to help his cousin swim to safety, only to lose his grip as the soldiers watched and laughed from above. "They were behaving like they were watching a comedy on stage," he told the AP.Perkins, Martinez and Bowman appeared at Wednesday's Article 32 hearing. Saville's hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 9. The four soldiers face between 5 1/2 years and 26 1/2 years in prison if they are tried and convicted on all charges.The soldiers are assigned to Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The brigade is part of the 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas.According to Cintron, investigators learned of the death in an e-mail from the victim's family. She said she met with Marwan Hassoun on Jan. 16, and he told her how they were stopped after getting supplies in Baghdad and then driven to the bridge several miles north of Samarra.Marwan Hassoun said he watched the soldiers push his cousin into the water and then he was pushed in, Cintron testified. He said he could hear his cousin screaming."He said it was eight meters (24 feet) deep and at no point did he feel the bottom of the river," she said. She described the drop from the bridge as 10-12 feet.After he got out on the bank, Hassoun said he could hear the soldiers above laughing as they drove away. He said he then went back to a checkpoint "soaking wet from the river" and reported what happened, Cintron said.A search was begun for a body and it was found two or three miles downriver.Martinez initially told investigators neither he nor anyone in his platoon pushed anyone in the river, Cintron said. He said they dropped the two men off on the side of the road. A week later, on Jan. 23, Martinez said he had gone to the river's edge with the men, "kicked one in the butt" but the man jumped in on his own.Sgt. Alexis Rincon, a member of the patrol that night, testified the soldiers forced the men to jump and that Martinez leveled a rifle at one of the Iraqis to make his point. Rincon said the man hesitated but jumped after the second Iraqi said something to him in Arabic.None of soldiers thought the men were in danger because one quickly made it to shore, Rincon said. He said he would not have left the scene in that event, but asked if he would have gone to the man's aid, Rincon drew laughs in the courtroom when he replied: "I don't know about jumping in and saving him."Rincon, who was granted immunity for his testimony, said Saville later jumped into the water and found it was waist deep only a few feet from shore.The soldiers' commanders, Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, Maj. Robert Gwinner and Capt. Matthew Cunningham, were punished last spring under Article 15, which allows punishments without a court proceeding or public record. Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., has asked for congressional hearings into why their cases were handled differently than those of the soldiers.Defense attorneys told the presiding officer, Capt. Robert Ayers, their case is crippled because three commanders are demanding immunity before they testify. Ayers ordered prosecutors to explain whether they offered immunity to defense witnesses and why.The defense also criticized Cintron for relying on relatives to confirm the identity of the drowned Iraqi. Capt. Joshua Norris, a defense attorney for Perkins, also said unfriendly Iraqis have been known to fake the death of Iraqis "to bring the soldiers down."Norris said that because the survivor and his family were not investigated, "you didn't know if they were the enemy or not.""I had a victim," the investigator replied. "I didn't have a suspect of any sort."Cintron also said it wasn't safe to exhume the body and there were no medical or dental records to help with identification. She said she believed the cousin because "we got admissions from the soldiers."Norris suggested Zaidoun Hassoun's family just wanted money for a damaged truck.Cintron said the family got $10,000 for the truck and $2,500 was paid to the dead man's father. She said the man didn't want to take the money because he didn't want the case ignored, and insisted that his lawyer take it.

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