FORT HOOD, Texas – Faced with increasing hostility in parts of Iraq last year, platoon leaders were encouraged to do whatever was necessary to counter Iraqi acts of defiance, two Army commanders testified.
While that included curfew violations, the commanders said throwing Iraqis into the river was never suggested.
"We didn't want any act of defiance to take place without some type of response ... but that (river method) is not a good option," Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman testified Wednesday night before the defense rested in the military trial of Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins (search).
Closing arguments were to begin Thursday morning for Perkins, accused in a man's drowning death after U.S. troops pushed two Iraqis into the river near Samarra in January 2004.
Perkins is charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators. The judge dropped a conspiracy charge against Perkins, meaning he could be sentenced to up to 26 years in prison if convicted of all remaining counts.
An Iraqi civilian testified Wednesday that he and his cousin were detained while driving back to Samarra with plumbing supplies, then forced at gunpoint into the cold Tigris River as U.S. soldiers laughed.
Marwan Fadel Hassoun said he tried to save his 19-year-old cousin by grabbing his hand, but the powerful current swept Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun (search) away. Marwan said the body was found in the river nearly two weeks later.
"I was fighting death. I had no other choice but to do everything possible to survive," Marwan testified through an interpreter.
But three soldiers called by the defense testified Wednesday that they were looking through night-vision equipment that night and saw two Iraqis on the river bank after the incident.
Under cross-examination, two of the soldiers said they did not reveal that information until last summer because Army investigators, convinced that an Iraqi had died, had intimidated them.
Capt. Alexander G. Williams, an intelligence officer, testified that a few weeks after the incident several Iraqi informants told him that Zaidoun was still alive in Samarra.
Dr. Elizabeth Peacock, a deputy medical examiner with Travis County, said she reviewed a videotape provided by Zaidoun's family showing a corpse in a coffin. She said the body's condition did not support claims that it had been in the water for nearly two weeks.
No soldiers disputed that the two Iraqis were forced into the river. Soldiers testifying for the prosecution and defense said they never heard Perkins order the Iraqis into the river and that he stayed in his vehicle that night.
They said the orders came from the platoon's leader, Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville (search), who is to be tried in March on the same charges as Perkins — as well as a conspiracy charge. Saville faces a maximum sentence of 29 years in prison.
The platoon members were teaching the two Iraqis a lesson about breaking curfew but never meant to cause them harm, according to testimony. Several soldiers said the river site near Samarra was not deep and had virtually no current.
Perkins and Saville are part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo., which is part of the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood.