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Army Won't Charge Captain With Ordering Iraqi Slayings

June 18, 2005|From Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — An Army captain investigated for allegedly ordering his troops to kill suspected Iraqi insurgents in retaliation for a deadly U.S. base attack will not be prosecuted, Army officials said Friday.

A prosecutor last month said he submitted three pages of possible charges against Capt. Matthew Cunningham, including solicitation of murder and involuntary manslaughter, and was waiting on his superiors to file charges.

But 10 days later, Staff Sgt. Shane Werst, one of Cunningham's subordinates who shot an Iraqi during a raid, was acquitted of murder.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman, said the case against Cunningham "lost prosecutorial merit." He would have been tried at Ft. Hood, Texas, where the 4th Infantry Division is based.

Cunningham, 31, earlier asked for his release from active duty because he had completed his service. That request was denied while he was under investigation, but he left the Army on Friday after his case was cleared.

His attorney, Richard Stevens, called the allegations devastating and unfair.

"He feels vindicated, and wants to put it behind him and move on," Stevens said.

In January 2004, on the day after Capt. Eric T. Paliwoda was killed in a mortar attack on a U.S. base in Balad, Iraq, Cunningham allegedly gave soldiers a list of suspected Iraqi insurgents who "were not to come back alive" if they were found during raids, prosecutors said.

About a dozen Iraqis were detained that night. Two were killed -- including one by Werst, who testified that he shot the Iraqi as he tried to grab another soldier's gun.

Cunningham was one of three officers reprimanded last year for trying to cover up another incident in which armed U.S. soldiers forced two Iraqi curfew violators into the Tigris River. One of the Iraqis allegedly drowned, and a platoon leader and sergeant both faced charges in the incident.

A manslaughter charge against 1st Lt. Jack Saville was dropped after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges in connection with the incident. Saville, who was sentenced to 45 days in prison, agreed to testify against Cunningham.

Saville's co-defendant, Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins, was acquitted of manslaughter in January but convicted of assault and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

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