IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Platoon leader pleads guilty to Iraq assault

/ Source: The Associated Press

A platoon leader accused of ordering his men to force two Iraqis into the Tigris River at gunpoint will not be tried for manslaughter as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

1st Lt. Jack Saville pleaded guilty Monday to lesser charges and agreed to testify against a higher-ranking officer who allegedly ordered Saville and other soldiers to execute certain Iraqi suspects if they caught them.

Saville said Capt. Matthew Cunningham, his company commander, gave him a list that included the names of five Iraqis who were “not to come back alive” if they were caught during a series of raids in Samarra on Jan. 3, 2004.

Saville, a 25-year-old West Point graduate whose family lives in Tappahannock, Va., pleaded guilty to two counts of assault, obstruction of justice and dereliction of duty.

He faces trial beginning Tuesday on an additional assault charge arising from an earlier incident in Balad in which an Iraqi man was arrested and thrown into the Tigris.

Saville faces nine years in prison; he faces an additional three years for the alleged Balad assault.

Along with manslaughter, the Army dropped charges of conspiracy and making a false official statement.

Drowning in the Tigris
Saville was accused of ordering his troops to force Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, and his cousin Marwan Hassoun off a ledge about 8 feet above the Tigris for allegedly violating curfew. Prosecutors said Zaidoun Hassoun couldn’t swim and drowned.

Defense lawyers contended the teenager is still alive, and in December a judge granted a defense request to have the body exhumed. It was unclear Monday if the exhumation ever took place.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, said Saville offered to plead guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault against Zaidoun Hassoun, and that the government decided it was in its best interests to accept that plea.

Withington said Cunningham is under investigation for allegedly giving illegal orders to kill Iraqi detainees. He said two Iraqis were killed during the raids, which came in response to a Jan. 2 mortar attack in nearby Balad that killed Army Capt. Eric Paliwoda.

U.S. soldier charged with murder
Staff Sgt. Shane Werst, 31, of El Toro, Calif., is charged with murder in one of the cases; the other is still under investigation, Withington said.

Cunningham is one of three officers already punished for trying to cover up the Tigris River drowning. The Army has said the punishment against Cunningham, Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman and Maj. Robert Gwinner did not include jail time.

Staff Sgt. Tracy Perkins, Saville’s co-defendant, was acquitted in January of manslaughter. Perkins was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and assault consummated by battery. He was sentenced to six months in a military prison and was reduced by one rank.

Perkins and Saville are part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo., which is part of the 4th Infantry based at Fort Hood.

RAF soldier faces court-martial
Also Monday, the British Ministry of Defense announced that a soldier in the Royal Air Force accused of killing five Iraqi civilians by driving dangerously in Iraq will face a court-martial next month.

James A. Bowskill is accused of being involved in the killings on a road near Basra on Feb. 3, 2004, the ministry said. Neither his rank nor age were released.

Britain, Washington’s top ally in the U.S.-led coalition, has about 8,000 troops in Iraq, mostly based in or near Basra in the south.