NEW YORK – Seven men live on the U.S. military's death row, a condemned fraternity that would grow by one if a military tribunal ultimately sentences Sgt. Hasan Akbar (search) to the same fate.
Akbar is accused of tossing grenades into fellow service members' tents while stationed at Camp Pennsylvania (search) in Kuwait. The attack killed two officers and wounded another 14 during the early days of the Iraq war.
On Thursday, the Army announced that Akbar, 32, would face a court martial this summer and that the death penalty would be considered if he is found guilty.
Akbar faces two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder.
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 wartime, according to the Army.
The last death sentence handed down by the Army was in 1996 for Sgt. William Kreutzer, who killed one person and injured others when he fired on soldiers exercising on a field at Fort Bragg.
There are currently seven inmates waitng to be executed via lethal injection at Fort Leavenworth (search) in Kansas. All of them were convicted of premeditated murder or felony murder.
To get a death sentence, Akbar needs to be convicted by a unanimous military jury verdict, then sentenced to death by a similar unanimous vote after a separate sentencing phase. The sentence would then be reviewed by an Army appeals court, a general military appeals court and the president before it would be carried out.
"It may be out there as a symbol, strong kind of punishment for the extreme cases but in reality used fairly rarely," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (search).
But it may be easier to send Akbar — an accused murderer — to Fort Leavenworth than it would be to send a U.S. servicemember or other U.S. citizen to their death on charges of being a traitor or a spy.
"Murder is a violation not only of domestic law but a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice … so the guy certainly can be tried in a court martial for homicide," said Leon Friedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School. "That's a lot easier than trying to figure out treason … if I just kill another soldier, why is that on behalf of another power?"
"In order to have a treason, you have to conspire and aid the enemy."
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (search) provides the death penalty as a possible punishment for 15 offenses, many of which must occur during a time of war.
The last time a U.S. servicemember was executed was April 13, 1961, according to the DPIC. Then, U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder.
Even though the military has not executed anyone in nearly 43 years, the National Law Journal noted that 135 people have been executed by the Army since 1916. The number of military executions may actually be much higher — a list of 169 servicemembers who were executed between 1942 and 1961 popped up in December after Pentagon employees found the list by accident, according to the Associated Press.
The president can cancel a death sentence and no servicemember can be executed until the president personally confirms that punishment.