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Jury gets case in Iraq drowning death court-martial

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins arrives Tuesday for his court-martial.Lm Otero / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Army platoon sergeant used unlawful military action when he ordered his troops to force two Iraqi cousins into the Tigris River for violating curfew, a prosecutor said Thursday in closing arguments.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, who is accused in the drowning death of Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, 19, is being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and making a false statement.

Jurors were expected to start deliberations Thursday night. If convicted, he could receive no punishment or up to 26 years in a military prison.

During closing arguments, Capt. Tom Schiffer said Perkins gave the orders to dump the men into the water — and therefore shares the blame with soldiers who forced the cousins at gunpoint into the river near Samarra in January 2004.

‘We ... need to send a message’
“We do need to send a message ... that you don’t grab random people, detain them and throw them into bodies of water for no military purpose,” Schiffer said.

He said a soldier’s testimony that Perkins ordered him to grab another Iraqi man in December 2003 near Balad and toss him into the river showed a pattern of using unlawful military force. Perkins faces a second assault charge in that incident.

Defense attorney Capt. Josh Norris said the hostilities in Iraq require soldiers to find effective nonlethal ways to deter crime and establish respect.

“Did these guys cross over the line? Did they know the left and right limits? This war is in this gray area most of the time,” Norris said. “Was it (the river incident) a good idea? Maybe not ... but was it a crime, considering all the circumstances?”

Norris also disputed the testimony of Marwan Hassoun, who said he swam against a strong current to safety on the river bank while his cousin was swept away. The teen’s body was found nearly two weeks later downstream, Marwan testified.

A forensic pathologist had testified that a videotape provided by the teen’s family showing a corpse in a coffin did not support claims the body had been in the water for nearly two weeks.

Investigator never saw body
Earlier Thursday, an Army investigator who was recalled to testify said she never saw the body or had it exhumed because of security concerns.

Sgt. Irene Cintron also said she doubted intelligence reports that the victim was still alive because officers and soldiers had already lied about the incident.

“I believed the whole chain of command was lying to me,” Cintron told the six-man jury.

The trial of Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville, the platoon leader, who is to be tried in March on the same charges as Perkins, was postponed until March after a judge ordered the victim’s body to be exhumed for an autopsy and positive identification. If convicted, Saville faces up to 29 years.