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

Grenade attack witness urged victim to hold on

An Army sergeant on trial for an attack in Kuwait that killed two officers  suffered from mental illness for years and could not have planned it, defense lawyers told a  jury Monday.
In an artist's rendering, Sgt. Hasan Akbar, left, listens to testimony Monday at his trial at Fort Bragg, N.C.Janet Hamlin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Army witness to a deadly grenade attack in the Kuwait desert carried out by one of their own testified Tuesday that he saw one of the victims get shot in the back, and urged the man to stay alive for his family.

1st Sgt. Rodlon Stevenson, who had been awakened by explosions in the officers’ tents, said he tried to help Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, who was cold with shock, stay awake.

“I said, sir, you’ve got to fight this,” Stevenson said. “You’ve got a young kid at home. You’ve got to fight for your family.”

Seifert, 27, was killed in the attack along with Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40.

Charged with two counts of murder
Sgt. Hasan Akbar, 33, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He faces a possible death penalty.

Stevenson said he later recognized Akbar as the assailant.

Akbar’s lawyers said that their client could not have planned the attack, and hope to spare him a possible death penalty for premeditated murder by alleging a history of mental illness that was apparent to the military.

“The enemy was in Sgt. Akbar’s mind, and had been there 15 years,” defense lawyer Maj. Dan Brookhart said in his opening statement Monday.

The court-martial marks the first time since the Vietnam War that a soldier has been prosecuted for the murder of another soldier during wartime.

In addition to the two people killed, 14 soldiers were wounded in the March 2003 attack at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, either by the grenades or when Akbar opened fire with a rifle in the ensuing chaos.

Akbar, a combat engineer from the 101st Airborne Division, confessed several times and allegedly told investigators he carried out the attack in the opening days of the Iraq war because he was worried that U.S. forces would harm fellow Muslims.

15 witnesses describe attack
Military prosecutors built their case victim by victim — with 15 witnesses testifying Monday, some only a few minutes.

“It was like getting hit by a car,” said Capt. Terry Bacon, who had shrapnel wounds to his back, legs and buttocks, but didn’t realize it until he tried to run out of the tent and his legs failed him.

Brookhart said Akbar’s mental illness stemmed from the sexual abuse of his sister by his stepfather, and as a teenager he was diagnosed with depression and an adjustment disorder. He later developed a sleep disorder. In the Army, his problems led to Akbar being demoted from a squad leader’s position and being given menial duties.

“He was basically a failure as a soldier,” Brookhart said.

Military prosecutor Capt. John Benson argued the attack was premeditated, adding that evidence indicates Akbar did extensive planning. In diary entries and actions — which included stealing grenades and turning off a generator that lit the camp — Akbar laid the groundwork for his fatal attack.

The brigade was on alert for an enemy attack, Benson said, but “their enemy was already inside the wire.”