FORT HOOD, Texas – An Army platoon sergeant who ordered his soldiers to throw Iraqis into the Tigris River (search) was sentenced Saturday to six months in military prison, but will not be discharged.
The military jury also reduced the rank of Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins (search) by one grade to staff sergeant, which cuts his pay and responsibilities.
Perkins, 33, was convicted Friday of two counts of aggravated assault, assault consummated by battery and obstruction of justice. He was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and making a false statement.
He did not testify during his trial, but before he was sentenced Saturday told the jury of Army officers and enlisted members that his actions were wrong — although he did not apologize to the Iraqis. He said he still loved the military and did not want to lose his job.
"If I had to go back, I would definitely do something different on those days," Perkins said, wiping away tears.
The six-man jury considered a sentencing range of no punishment to a dishonorable discharge, rank reduction and 111/2 years in prison. Prosecutors had recommended five years in prison and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.
Perkins was taken to the Bell County Jail because Fort Hood (search) has no jail. It could take up to a week to determine where he will serve his sentence.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing.
Before deliberations began, the prosecutor, Capt. Megan Shaw (search), said Perkins had jeopardized the U.S. mission because insurgents were using the incidents to spread anti-American propaganda.
The defense attorney, Capt. Tom Hurley, urged the jurors to consider Perkins' numerous military awards.
Perkins and another soldier were accused of ordering soldiers to push the two Iraqis into the river in Samarra in January 2004. Prosecutors say Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, drowned and his cousin, Marwan Hassoun, climbed out the river.
Marwan Hassoun testified that he tried to save his cousin by grabbing his hand, but the powerful current swept Zaidoun away. Marwan said the body was found in the river nearly two weeks later.
Defense attorneys contended Zaidoun may still be alive, but say if he is dead it was not at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
Perkins did not discuss specifics of the incident on the stand Saturday, but admitted he had ordered his soldiers to throw an Iraqi man into the river in December 2003.
Perkins said the man had made a gesture of slitting his throat. He said he never meant to injure or kill the Iraqi by throwing him in the river; and he ordered him thrown in the river to teach him a "hard lesson" about threatening U.S. troops. He testified he saw the man climb out alive.
"Basically the enemy would test your resolve. ... I didn't want them to think we were soft or weak," said Perkins, who has 14 years of military service.
Perkins was convicted of assault consummated by battery in Zaidoun's purported death, which carries a maximum sentence of six months. He was convicted of aggravated assault in connection with the attack on Marwan Hassoun and for ordering the other man thrown into the river in December 2003. He was found innocent of making a false statement.
No soldiers disputed that the Hassoun cousins were forced into the river. But 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.
The soldiers said the orders came from Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville, the platoon leader, who is to be tried in March on the same charges as Perkins — as well as a conspiracy charge. His trial was postponed until March after a judge ordered the victim's body to be exhumed for an autopsy and identification.
Several of Perkins' commanding officers testified Saturday that Perkins was an outstanding soldier who tried to find non-lethal ways to deal with defiant Iraqis in the increasingly dangerous region.
"I will always consider him a war hero. ... No one can ever take away his outstanding service over there," said Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman.
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.