FORT BRAGG, N.C. – One by one, a total of 15 Army witnesses told a military jury about the pain and confusion that followed a deadly grenade attack in the Kuwait desert carried out by one of their own.
Sgt. Hasan Akbar's (search) lawyers said their client could not have planned the attack, and hope to spare him a possible death penalty for premeditated murder by alleging a history of mental illness that was apparent to the military.
"The enemy was in Sgt. Akbar's mind, and had been there 15 years," defense lawyer Maj. Dan Brookhart said in his opening statement Monday.
The court-martial marks the first time since the Vietnam War that a soldier has been prosecuted for the murder of another soldier during wartime. The trial was set to resume Tuesday.
Fourteen soldiers were wounded in the March 2003 attack at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, either by the grenades or when Akbar opened fire with a rifle in the ensuing chaos. Killed were Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40.
Akbar, 33, confessed several times and allegedly told investigators he carried out the attack in the opening days of the Iraq war because he was worried that U.S. forces would harm fellow Muslims.
Military prosecutors built their case victim by victim — with 15 witnesses testifying Monday, some only a few minutes.
"It was like getting hit by a car," said Capt. Terry Bacon, who had shrapnel wounds to his back, legs and buttocks, but didn't realize it until he tried to run out of the tent and his legs failed him.
Other soldiers said they were confused about how the enemy could get inside the camp and that someone ran by their tent warning of an attack just as grenades rolled in.
"I heard something hit the wooden floor of our tent and then bounce. I've seen movies, Hollywood movies, and grenades sounded like that," said Capt. Mark Wisher, who suffered a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and punctured diaphragm.
Brookhart said Akbar's mental illness stemmed from the sexual abuse of his sister by his stepfather, and as a teenager he was diagnosed with depression and an adjustment disorder. He later developed a sleep disorder. In the Army, his problems led to Akbar being demoted from a squad leader's position and being given menial duties.
"He was basically a failure as a soldier," Brookhart said.
Military prosecutor Capt. John Benson argued the attack was premeditated, adding that evidence indicates Akbar did extensive planning. In diary entries and actions — which included stealing grenades and turning off a generator that lit the camp — Akbar laid the groundwork for his fatal attack.
The brigade was on alert for an enemy attack, Benson said, but "their enemy was already inside the wire."