FORT BRAGG, N.C. – A prosecution witness testified Monday that a soldier charged with killing two officers in a grenade attack during the Iraq war confessed to the crimes after his arrest, saying he feared the wartime deaths of Muslims.
Sgt. Hasan Akbar (search), 32, of the 101st Airborne Division (search), faces the death penalty if convicted in the attack. Monday's hearing was held to resolve legal issues in advance of Akbar's court-martial.
Sgt. Eric Tanner, a brigade legal assistant, testified Akbar told a major that he attacked his fellow soldiers and said after he learned of his right not to incriminate himself that he was "ready to talk."
When asked why he committed the attack, "Sgt. Akbar stated 'I did it because I'm Muslim. They were going to kill Muslims and rape Muslim women,'" Tanner said.
Akbar's lawyers have said there were no witnesses to the crime and Akbar was accused because he is Muslim. They want Akbar's statements kept out of evidence during his trial.
Capt. David Coombs, one of Akbar's military defense lawyers, argued that the statement could have been made under pressure, since Akbar was handcuffed, kept under armed guard and other soldiers were yelling at him.
He said the soldiers were talking to Akbar "at a time when clearly no one should have been making statements," including one soldier who said Akbar's actions would create problems for Muslims in the Army.
During a hearing earlier this month, Akbar fell asleep in the courtroom at least twice and was awakened once by the judge, who ordered that the Army give him medical help.
A military prosecutor said Monday that Akbar will be scheduled for a sleep study when he is taken back to Kentucky, where his division is based.
Civilian defense attorney Wazir Ali Muhammad Al-Haqq said Akbar told him that medication given to treat his sleep apnea "had been ineffective." Akbar's sleep problem will be part of their case at trial, Akbar has said.
Also Monday, Col. Patrick Parrish, the military judge, refused defense requests to move the trial and to eliminate the death penalty as a possible punishment for Akbar. Parrish also denied a request to sequester the military jury when the trial begins.
Akbar's court-martial was originally scheduled to start July 12. But he will not face trial until October at the earliest, after the judge delayed the case to give a civilian defense lawyer more time to study evidence.
The case marks the first time since the Vietnam War (search) that an Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during wartime.
Prosecutors allege that Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee on March 23, 2003 -- during the opening days of the war. He allegedly killed the two men by throwing grenades into their tents.