FORT CAMPBELL, Ky – The decision on whether to court-martial a 101st Airborne Division (search) soldier charged in a grenade attack in Kuwait (search) will be handled by a different military body, officials said Wednesday.
Sgt. Hasan Akbar (search), 32, is charged with two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. It will be up to the new jurisdiction to decide whether he will be court-martialed in the March attack, which killed two.
Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, said in a statement the case is being transferred to the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., because the 101st continues to be busy with operations in Iraq. The 101st reports to the 18th Airborne Corps.
The public affairs office at Fort Campbell originally stated that Petraeus had signed off on the court-martial, but later said that he only transferred the case.
On June 20, the investigating officer at an Article 32 hearing for Akbar made the recommendation that the case proceed to a court- martial.
Because Petraeus has handed over jurisdiction in the case, it will now be up to the commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps to determine whether or not to follow the recommendation.
The soldiers killed March 23, in the early days of the war with Iraq, were Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho.
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, the Army said.
At the Article 32 hearing at Fort Knox, the investigating officer said a leg injury suffered by Akbar linked him to the attack scene, as did a fingerprint on a generator outside one of the three tents attacked.
Prosecuting attorney Capt. Harper Cook said Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding, then walked to the brigade operations area an hour later to attack the officers.
"He selected the weapons, he pulled the pins, he threw the grenades and he shot Maj. (Kenneth) Romaine with his rifle," Cook said.
His attack plan "was well-thought out and executed with military precision," Cook said. Romaine was wounded in both hands and his left thigh.
But Akbar's attorney, Lt. Col. Victor Hansen, argued that no eyewitnesses placed the soldier at the scene, and that other soldiers were too quick to assume -- as soon as it was reported that Akbar was missing -- that he committed the crime because he is Muslim.
"The Muslim portion is important," Hansen said. He added, "that's the theory they ran with."
He pointed out that two soldiers testified they told investigators that Akbar was not the man they saw shoot Seifert. One witness said he saw a second shot fired that he thought came from a second shooter.
Hansen said the probe was tainted when Col. Ben Hodges, the brigade commander, told the arriving investigator that a soldier had confessed to the crime because the solider said American soldiers were going to rape and kill Muslims in Iraq.
Akbar's attorneys have refused to answer questions from reporters.