FORT KNOX, Ky. – A soldier accused in a fatal grenade attack in Kuwait (search) asked before he was deployed if soldiers would rape and kill Iraqi women and children, another soldier testified Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Billy Rogers said that when Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar (search) asked about it during a call, he assumed Akbar had heard soldiers talking in the barracks at Fort Campbell and was confused because Akbar often took things literally.
"I said, 'No, we won't be raping Iraqis or doing something like that,"' Rogers said.
Akbar, a 32-year-old Muslim, is accused of killing two officers and wounding 14 in the March 23 attack on officers from the 101st Airborne Division (search) as they slept in tents.
Soldiers began testifying via video link Wednesday from Iraq in a military hearing to determine whether Akbar will be court-martialed. Akbar's lawyers have not spoken publicly about the case.
Akbar's platoon leader, 1st Lt. John Evangalista, said he was not told about Rogers' conversation with Akbar until after the attack. Evangalista said he assumed Rogers "didn't think it was that crucial. It was kind of the usual behavior of Sgt. Akbar where he was out of touch with everybody else."
Evangalista said in Kuwait, Akbar often paced and appeared tired. He testified he was concerned Akbar was suicidal or depressed, so four or five days before the attack he asked Akbar if anything was wrong.
"He said, 'No sir, I want to fight, I just want to prepare myself best I can to go fight,"' Evangalista said.
Other soldiers testified Wednesday that they didn't have faith in Akbar's abilities as a soldier.
"He was really incompetent in his leadership ability," Sgt. David Walter said.
Sgt. David Walter said he was Akbar's relief for guard duty and took over at midnight before the attack, watching the platoon's vehicles. After the attack, he looked in a Humvee where four grenades were supposed to be and found only two grenade casings and no grenades.
Pfc. Christopher Pennell, who had been on duty with Akbar that night, said the grenades were stored in the Humvee when he checked in for guard duty. He said he left Akbar alone to guard the vehicles as he woke up his replacement.
The military proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is similar to a civilian grand jury. If convicted at a court-martial, Akbar could face the death penalty.
Akbar, who is Muslim, had told relatives he was wary of going to war in Iraq, and his mother has said she was concerned he might have been accused because he is a Muslim.
It is the first time since the Vietnam War that a U.S. Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during a period of war, said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.