updated 11/3/2008 11:44:21 AM ET 2008-11-03T16:44:21

The Army has kicked out a soldier for beating a Jewish trainee who complained about religious harassment in their basic training unit, a Fort Benning spokesman said Monday.

Citing federal privacy laws, the Army had previously refused to discuss how it punished the attacker of Pvt. Michael Handman, 20, of Atlanta, other than to say the case had been handled as an administrative matter rather than as a crime.

That changed after the southeast director of the Anti-Defamation League met Fort Benning officials Friday. Col. Charles Durr, chief of staff at Fort Benning, told the ADL’s Bill Nigut the assailant had been discharged.

“The soldier that was punished for the assault on Pvt. Handman has been processed for discharge from the Army,” Fort Benning spokesman Bob Purtiman confirmed Monday.

The Army says Handman was beaten Sept. 24 by a fellow trainee in a laundry room near his barracks. Handman was treated at an Army hospital for a concussion and bruising to his face. He has since been transferred to another basic training unit at Fort Benning in Columbus.

Four days before the attack, Handman was interviewed by commanders of his basic training unit about complaints he’d made in letters to his parents that he had been harassed by two drill sergeants because he’s Jewish.

Called 'Juden' by one sergeant
The Army later acknowledged one drill sergeant had ordered Handman to remove his yarmulke, which he wore with his uniform, as he ate in a dining hall. Another drill sergeant had called him “Juden” — the German word for Jews.

Purtiman said investigators concluded the assault on Handman was not motivated by bigotry, but he would not say what prompted it. He also would not release the name of Handman’s attacker, citing the federal Privacy Act.

Jonathan Handman, the Jewish soldier’s father, said Monday the Army should have court-martialed the trainee who attacked his son.

“If this was civilian life, he would’ve been arrested under a hate crime,” he said. “Why should it be any different under the military?”

Military law gives commanders the option of pursuing criminal charges in a court-martial or handling accusations of misconduct administratively, basically treating them as personnel matters.

Purtiman said Army lawyers told Fort Benning commanders they could announce that Handman’s attacker had been discharged once the accused soldier had left the Army post. He said the soldier’s last day at Fort Benning was Friday, when Nigut met with officials there.

Nigut said he still believes Handman’s harassment by drill sergeants likely singled him out as a target for further abuse by fellow trainees. But he said he’s pleased overall with the Army’s resolution of the case.

“After listening to the Army’s investigators and hearing what they learned, the fact that this trainee is no longer in the Army is a good thing,” Nigut said. “I think the Army took ADL’s concerns seriously.”

'Turned into a punching bag'
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, last month called the Army’s denial of a religious motive in Handman’s beating "complete garbage and an absolute cover-up."

"Michael Handman was turned into a punching bag for the Army because of his religious faith," said Weinstein, who has helped the Handmans pursue the case with the Army.

Fort Benning officials transferred Handman to a new training battalion of about 900 soldiers last month to separate him from his attacker and the two drill sergeants, who were reprimanded for religious discrimination.

Handman began basic training Aug. 29 and soon wrote a letter to his parents in which he said, "I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion." He said he feared some of his fellow trainees "wanted to beat the (expletive) out of me... And the only justification they have is because I’m Jewish."

Handman’s parents contacted U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who forwarded their concerns to the Army. Four days after commanders interviewed Handman about being harassed, he was beaten.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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