Gerry Broome  /  AP
Sgt. Hasan Akbar is led from the Staff Judge Advocate Building on Monday during his court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C.
updated 4/18/2005 8:17:52 PM ET 2005-04-19T00:17:52

Weeks before launching a deadly grenade attack on his comrades, Sgt. Hasan Akbar attended a camp showing of the movie “Apocalypse Now” and laughed at a scene of U.S. troops being hit by a grenade, a soldier testified Monday.

The testimony came as Akbar’s lawyers opened their defense at his court-martial. Akbar is accused of allegedly ambushing fellow soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in their tents at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait in March 2003, during the opening days of the Iraq war. An Army captain and an Air Force major were killed.

Akbar’s lawyers do not dispute the fact he carried out the attack, but hope to spare him a possible death penalty by showing he was mentally incapable of premeditating it.

Spc. Joshua Rice testified that soldiers were watching the 1979 Vietnam War movie at their camp while they awaited their orders to move into Iraq.

During a scene in which a woman tosses a grenade into a helicopter loaded with wounded American soldiers, Akbar, who was seated at the back of the room, burst out laughing, Rice said. Akbar then got up and walked out, he said.

Prosecutors have said Akbar planned his attack on his fellow soldiers. Last week, they introduced diary entries in which he wrote that he might have to kill his “battle buddies.”

Psychologist testifies
Earlier Monday, a psychologist who examined the defendant as a teenager testified that Akbar appeared incapable of relating to others.

Dr. Fred Tuton of Baton Rouge, La., said he first interviewed Akbar in 1986, when Akbar was 14. Local child-protection officials had sent Akbar for evaluation after his 4-year-old sister was found to have been molested by his stepfather.

“He never smiled at any time during my evaluation. That was very significant ... not showing any emotion,” Tuton testified.

Tuton also said Akbar’s greatest worry was “becoming a nothing” and that he felt guilty because he was the eldest of five children and didn’t protect his sister from the abuse.

Several other soldiers testified Monday that Akbar was a loner. One sergeant said he relieved Akbar of his job as a team leader because of poor performance.

Akbar’s parents — Quran Bilal of Baton Rouge and John Akbar of Seattle — are attending the trial, but neither has made a public comment. Both are possible defense witnesses.

Charged with murder
Akbar, 33, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He allegedly rolled grenades into tents in the middle of the night and then fired on soldiers in the ensuing chaos.

Killed in the attack were Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, who was shot in the back, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, who suffered 83 shrapnel wounds. Another 14 soldiers were injured.

The court-martial is the first time since the Vietnam era that an American has been prosecuted on charges of murdering a fellow soldier during wartime.

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