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Soldier who killed unarmed Iraqi discharged to face lesser charges

WASHINGTON—A U.S. soldier was discharged from the Army for manslaughter rather than charged with murder for shooting an unarmed Iraqi prisoner last year, despite the fact that Army investigators found sufficient evidence to press the murder charge, Pentagon records released Tuesday show.

The records also show that military investigators examined allegations that U.S. military dog handlers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison held a competition to see who could make Iraqi detainees urinate on themselves the fastest.

Soldiers with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion were cleared of charges in the September 2003 incident after Army investigators could find no evidence to support allegations that the soldiers had attempted to frighten prisoners with dogs so they would urinate on themselves.

The Army criminal investigators did find that a specialist with the 4th Forward Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, may have committed murder when he shot an unarmed prisoner at Camp Packhorse, near Tikrit, also in September 2003. The soldier, whose name was omitted from the investigative records, told military police he thought the prisoner was trying to escape.

But Army investigators found that the soldier, who's identified only as an electronic-devices repairman, probably "acted out of malice and went immediately to deadly force when it likely wasn't warranted," according to handwritten field notes.

The incident occurred Sept. 11, 2003, but wasn't reported to Army criminal investigators until four days later. When an investigator followed up on the case Nov. 20, an Army lawyer at Camp Packhorse told the investigator that the soldier had been administratively punished for voluntary manslaughter on Nov. 12, reduced to the lowest rank of private and discharged from the Army.

There's no explanation in the records of why the soldier was charged with the lesser crime and discharged, instead of facing a murder charge. The Army closed its investigation.

Neither the Defense Department nor the Army had any immediate comment Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which released the records of the case, expressed concern that "commanders short-circuited the investigation and prosecution ... rather than seeking fair and full justice."

The records were among hundreds of documents the ACLU released Tuesday on internal Army investigations into crimes allegedly committed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. They were among the latest in a slew of government documents the ACLU has released that cover abuse by American service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While the documents the ACLU has made public in recent weeks illustrate that some troops in Iraq and elsewhere have committed human-rights abuses, questions remain about how far up the chain of command the responsibility for these actions goes. Senior defense officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have laid the blame on lower-ranking soldiers and a lax command atmosphere in some units. However, some critics, including the ACLU, charge that responsibility goes much higher.

Tuesday's documents detail about four dozen cases in which Army criminal investigators looked into accusations of soldiers assaulting, robbing, mistreating and killing Iraqi civilians and prisoners.

There were at least seven shooting incidents, including that of the soldier who was discharged. In five of those cases, the soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing and were found to have acted within the rules of engagement.

In many of the lesser incidents, soldiers were found guilty and punished. Many of the punishments consisted of reprimands, reductions in rank and forfeiture of pay.

In at least a dozen cases in which the Army investigated the deaths of prisoners, the causes were determined to be natural.

In one incident, a tower guard at Abu Ghraib was reprimanded for not following the rules of engagement for shooting and killing a civilian outside the prison.

According to the Pentagon, 128 service members have been punished or are awaiting court-martial. Only one general has been relieved of command.


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