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Soldier Testifies Unit Was Ordered to Throw Iraqis Over Embankment

July 29, 2004|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

FT. CARSON, Colo. — The Iraq of Army Spc. Ralph Logan was a land of gray.

A place where going by the book was sometimes impossible while abandoning all principles was unthinkable.

But what happened sometime after 11 p.m. on Jan. 3 wasn't gray at all. "It was black," the soldier said.

Logan was testifying Wednesday in a military courtroom in a case in which four soldiers faced charges of forcing two Iraqi civilians to jump off an embankment into the Tigris River. One man is believed to have drowned. The other swam to safety.

The soldiers, members of the 3rd Combat Brigade based at Ft. Carson, face a variety of charges, some carrying maximum sentences of 10 years in prison. They were the subjects of an Article 32 hearing Wednesday, similar to a preliminary hearing in a civilian court. The judge, in this case an investigating military officer, hears the evidence and can recommend a court martial.

Soldiers from the unit took the stand and described seeing two Iraqi civilians picked up for curfew violations.

Logan, a member of the platoon, said before the Iraqis were arrested he heard a voice over the radio in his Bradley Fighting vehicle saying if they found anyone out after curfew "they're going to get wet."

The Iraqis told the soldiers they had run out of gas while picking up supplies for their plumbing business. One man raised suspicion when he produced a child's identification for himself.

"We put them in the vehicle and drove off," Logan said. "I thought we were going to warn them about violating curfew."

But Logan said the men were driven to a bridge over the Tigris. "Sgt. Martinez told us to take them to the river but I refused," he said referring to Sgt. Reggie Martinez.

Another witness, Sgt. Alexis Rincon, went along.

"Logan didn't want to take part but I said 'No problem,' " Rincon told the court. "They were standing about 4 feet from the edge, and Martinez pointed his weapon at them and told them to jump. The first guy hesitated, he didn't want to. Spc. Bowman grabbed him and led him to the edge," Rincon said referring to Spc. Terry Bowman.

Marwan Abdul-Hakin Fadel, who witnesses called 'the fat one,' was forced in first. He then shouted in Arabic to his friend Zaydun Fahdil who also jumped from the 12-foot high ledge. Rincon said he saw the first man make it to shore but not the second. The water was about 24 feet deep.

The family of the second man said his body showed up downriver weeks later after he apparently drowned. The family sent an e-mail to the Army, which launched an investigation against four soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins was charged with manslaughter, assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Sgt. Martinez was charged with manslaughter. Spc. Bowman was charged with assault. First Lt. Jack Saville faces manslaughter, assault, conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice charges. Saville did not appear Wednesday because his lawyer was not prepared.

Defense attorneys for the soldiers said the men never intended to kill anyone, and there was no hard evidence that the second man died as a result of the incident or even that he was dead. They said he was not seen by anyone but his family before he was buried.

The defense also brought in a witness who said it was a common practice in Iraq to claim a family member was killed by U.S. troops to get money. In this case, the family of the man believed to have died received $2,500; the survivor got $10,000 for damage done to his car.

Tony Fincher, a gunner in the platoon that night, told the court he saw two men walking along the riverbank through his night vision equipment after the Iraqis were forced into the river.

Witnesses said after the incident that they were urged to mislead investigators.

"The senior NCOs [noncommissioned officers] didn't tell us to lie, but they told us to say we detained the Iraqis, brought them to the bridge and let them go," Logan said.

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