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3 U.S. soldiers charged in death of Iraqi detainee

WASHINGTON—Three American soldiers have been charged with manslaughter in the drowning of a 19-year-old Iraqi who was forced into the Tigris River, and a fourth soldier has been charged with assault, the Army announced Friday.

According to a brief Army statement, the incident occurred Jan. 3 and involved two Iraqi detainees. The Army didn't provide details of the case, but a British newspaper, The Independent, which interviewed the surviving detainee, reported that the two men were ordered into the river at gunpoint after their pickup was stopped close to curfew on a nearby road.

Marwan Fadhil told The Independent that the soldiers were laughing when they forced them into the river. He said his cousin, Zeidun Fadhil, drowned because he couldn't swim.

The Army identified the soldiers as Spc. Terry Bowman, Lt. Jack M. Saville, Sgt. Reggie Martinez and Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said the soldiers were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., and had been in Iraq for about nine months at the time.

If convicted of manslaughter, Saville, Perkins and Martinez could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in confinement under the U.S. military code. Bowman, who's been charged with assault, faces a maximum of six months.

All four also have been charged with making a false statement.

Withington noted that the judicial process against the soldiers is still in an early stage. The evidence must be reviewed at an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a grand jury. After the hearing, an investigating officer will make a recommendation about whether to continue prosecution to the commanding general of the division, who'll decide on the next step.

"It could go to court-martial or it could be dismissed," Withington said.

The case is the Army's latest response to reports of abuse by U.S.-led coalition forces since military operations were launched last year. During the past four months, charges have been brought against seven military police officers for abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

In May, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, the first Abu Ghraib defendant, was demoted, expelled from the Army and sentenced to one year in prison. Sivits pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and three other counts and admitted watching other MP's strip detainees and force them to simulate sex acts.

A month before Fadhil drowned, a battalion commander of an artillery battalion of the 4th Infantry Division pleaded guilty to aggravated assault after he threatened to kill a detainee who refused to answer questions.

Lt. Col. Allen B. West briefly became a cause celebre among Americans who felt he was protecting his soldiers' lives. Though West could have faced prison time, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, decided West should retire and pay a $5,000 fine.

Gwen Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the human rights group Amnesty International, said her organization welcomed the attention that the Army was paying to allegations of abuse. But she said she was troubled by the lack of transparency in the process of investigating and prosecuting abuse.

The cases "continue to dribble and drabble out," she said, "which leads one to wonder if the powers that be are being entirely honest."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.