Army Drops Cowardice Charge Against GI

Published November 06, 2003

| Associated Press

The Army dismissed a cowardice charge and filed a lesser count against an Army interrogator who sought counseling after he saw the body of an Iraqi man cut in half by American fire.

Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany was charged with dereliction of duty, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by Fort Carson (search) officials. A military court hearing set Friday for Pogany was canceled.

The new charge was filed by the company commander after military judges dismissed the cowardice charge, officials said. "He believes that this charge is most appropriate to address the alleged misconduct based upon the evidence that is currently available," an Army statement said.

Army officials did not immediately return phone calls for comment. Neither did Pogany nor his attorney.

Attorney Frank Spinner, a retired Air Force colonel who handles military cases, said dereliction of duty is a minor offense that, if disposed of without a court-martial, usually is penalized by loss of pay or reduction in rank.

With a court-martial, the maximum penalty is several months confinement, said Spinner, of Colorado Springs (search). Whether a court-martial is held depends on the military judiciary.

After seeing the mangled corpse, Pogany says he began shaking and vomiting and feared for his life. Soon, Pogany says, he had trouble sleeping and started suffering what he thought were panic attacks.

Six weeks later, Pogany, 32, was charged with cowardice, a count that he said was filed after he sought counseling. Pogany denies that he acted in a cowardly way.

"What is tragic about this is the message being sent to other soldiers," Pogany said recently. "It's not about me."

Cowardice violations can be punished by death. Military code does not include a minimum sentence.

Army officials have declined to discuss the case.

Cowardice charges are rare. The last such conviction in the Army occurred during the Vietnam War. Charges were filed against a married couple during the Gulf War (search), but reduced to mistreatment of public property, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

"You have to look pretty hard to find any of these cases," Fidell said. "We have a well-trained army that is a motivated one."

Pogany's case and others that are similar suggest Iraqi deployments are wearing thin, said military analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

"I think what you are seeing here is a consequence of the changed character of an all-volunteer force," Goure said. "The strain gets worse when you have longer deployments or multiple deployments or changing deployments."

Assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, Pogany was attached to a team of Green Berets on Sept. 26 when he departed for Iraq. He declined to discuss his responsibilities, citing security issues.

Three days later, he was standing in a U.S. compound near Samarra north of Baghdad when soldiers brought in the Iraqi man's bloody body. The soldiers told Pogany the man was killed after he was seen shooting a rocket-propelled grenade.

Pogany said he was shaken, couldn't focus and kept vomiting. He told his commanders he believed he was suffering from panic attacks or a nervous breakdown and requested counseling.

At least one officer suggested he consider what such a request would do to his career, Pogany said. When he sought help, "I was told that I was wasting their time," Pogany said.

Pogany was examined by psychologist Capt. Marc Houck, who concluded he had signs consistent with normal combat stress reaction. Houck recommended Pogany be given a brief rest before returning to duty, but he was sent home to Fort Carson in mid-October and charged with "cowardly conduct as a result of fear."

Pogany said he asked three times to be given time to adjust and complete the recommended treatment while in Iraq.

Pogany said he can offer a credible defense. "If the Army decides to go down the route of character assassination, I have plenty to show I have been a good soldier for five years," he said.

His attorney, Richard Travis, speculated that Pogany may have received more help if he had been assigned to another unit.

"All he wanted was some help dealing with the physical reaction he was having, including vomiting, shaking and inability to sleep," Travis said.

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