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Doctor Says Iraqi Prisoner Was Hit Repeatedly Before Death

Pathologist testifying in court-martial of Marine describes evidence of multiple blows.

August 27, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — An Iraqi prisoner who died in U.S. custody had six broken ribs in a pattern that suggests he was struck repeatedly before his death, a military pathologist testified Thursday in the court-martial of a Marine accused of assault.

Army Col. Kathleen Ingwersen, who performed the autopsy on Nagem Sadoon Hatab, also said that the broken ribs would have caused great pain and difficulty in breathing.

Marine Pfc. William Roy, the prosecution's star witness, has testified that Marine Sgt. Gary Pittman angrily hit and karate-kicked Hatab in the chest while the prisoner was handcuffed and wearing a bag on his head, and that in the hours afterward, Hatab was moaning, holding his sides and having trouble breathing.

Pittman, 40, a reservist from New York, is charged with dereliction of duty and assault for allegedly roughing up several Iraqi prisoners at the Camp Whitehorse detention facility near Nasiriyah last year.

Hatab, 52, a suspected hit man for Saddam Hussein, died two days after allegedly being kicked by Pittman. He had been captured as a suspect in an ambush on an Army convoy.

Roy, who received immunity from prosecution, is the only witness to testify that Pittman hit or kicked Hatab. In his opening statement, defense attorney Marine Capt. Anders Folk said Pittman will testify that he never assaulted Hatab.

Although Pittman is not charged with delivering the fatal blow, the prosecution called Ingwersen to bolster Roy's account by testifying about severe internal injuries suffered by Hatab.

But under cross-examination by Pittman's civilian attorney, John Tranberg, Ingwersen said she doubted the broken ribs could have been broken by a single kick or punch. And Ingwersen conceded that she skipped tests that might have provided more information about how and when the ribs were broken.

"We may have ended up not following all of our standard procedures," Ingwersen testified.

She listed the probable cause of death as suffocation due to a broken bone in the neck.

In his testimony, Roy said he grabbed Hatab around the neck when he fell.

Also, other witnesses have testified that another enlisted Marine, under orders from the officer in charge of the camp, dragged the barely conscious Hatab about 40 feet over dirt and concrete; he was found dead just hours later.

Roy, 35, a Marine reservist and jail guard for a sheriff's department in upstate New York, testified that he was scared when he learned of Hatab's death that he may have inflicted the fatal injury.

He said his apprehension increased when investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service began probing Hatab's death and summoned Marines to Kuwait for questioning.

"We were all worried, sir," Roy said. "We were all dragged back and forth from Iraq to Kuwait all the time. Nobody knew what was going on."

To avoid court-martial, Roy made a deal with prosecutors that included providing testimony against Pittman.

In initial interviews, Roy had not mentioned that Pittman allegedly hit and kicked Hatab. But on the eve of his preliminary hearing, Roy made both allegations and agreed to plead guilty at an administrative hearing and accept a reduction in rank.

Defense attorneys have suggested to jurors that Roy, worried that he might be charged with killing Hatab, embellished his story about Pittman in order to convince prosecutors to offer him a deal.

Pittman faces two years in prison and a discharge if convicted on all counts.

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