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Marine Sentenced for Beating Iraqi Captives

September 04, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A Marine sergeant convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners was sentenced Friday to 60 days' hard labor and reduced in rank to private but allowed to remain in the Marine Corps.

The court-martial jury at Camp Pendleton that convicted Sgt. Gary Pittman, 40, a reservist from New York, meted out the sentencing after a hearing in which Pittman tearfully asked for leniency and expressed his love for the Marine Corps. He could have been sentenced to six months in custody and given a bad-conduct discharge.

Maj. Leon Francis, the lead prosecutor, asked the nine officers on the jury to give Pittman the maximum punishment as an example to other troops in Iraq that brutalizing prisoners is not acceptable.

"The accused doesn't get it," Francis told jurors. "He does not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.... The Marine Corps is supposed to be the good guys, not the bad guys."

The sentence of hard labor means Pittman will be given extra duty each night after he completes his assigned job. When not working or exercising, he will be confined to the barracks.

Pittman is also likely to lose his civilian job as a guard at a federal prison in Brooklyn. Officials said federal rules do not allow guards who have been convicted of a civilian or military offense such as assault.

Pittman was convicted of assaulting prisoners at the Camp Whitehorse detention facility near Nasiriyah and dereliction of duty for allowing lower-ranking Marines to abuse them and for not calling for Navy medics to treat injured prisoners.

Pittman's brother, Army Maj. Morrant Pittman, asked jurors to remember his brother's nearly two decades of military service in the Army and Marine Corps. Pittman served in the Army National Guard, then with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, and as an active-duty Marine during the Persian Gulf War.

"Sometimes when you're in a hostile environment and you're dealing with dangerous people, you make mistakes," said defense attorney Capt. Anders Folk.

Though he was convicted of hitting and kneeing several other prisoners, Pittman was acquitted of assaulting of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, 52, a suspected hit man for Saddam Hussein who had been captured as a suspect in the ambush on an Army convoy that left 11 soldiers dead and Pfc. Jessica Lynch a prisoner.

Hatab died two days after being captured, which led Maj. Gen. James Mattis, then-commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, to order an investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Camp Whitehorse. Pittman's civilian defense attorney, John Tranberg, told reporters that the government was overzealous in the investigation in an effort to file charges.

Two officers from the same reserve battalion, which is based in Garden City, N.Y., face charges for allegedly lax leadership that allowed enlisted Marines to assault prisoners.

Maj. Clarke Paulus, whose court-martial begins next week, is charged with giving the order that may have resulted in Hatab's receiving a fatal injury. Paulus allegedly ordered Marines to drag the semiconscious Hatab by the neck to an outside holding area; an autopsy suggested that Hatab suffocated from a broken bone in his neck.

Pittman's conviction came a week after a Marine sergeant from Camp Lejeune, N.C., pleaded guilty to attempted cruelty, maltreatment of prisoners and dereliction of duty in an incident in which an Iraqi prisoner was intentionally shocked with electricity.

A court-martial in Iraq sentenced Sgt. Matthew K. Travis to 15 months in confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge. Three other Marines have also been convicted of charges stemming from the April incident at a makeshift Marine camp in the Iraqi desert.

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