FORT CARSON, Colo. – Defense lawyers for three soldiers facing charges for allegedly forcing two Iraqis to jump into the Tigris River (search) said it's possible that nobody actually died that night.
Two of the soldiers whose hearing began Wednesday are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the alleged drowning, while the third faces lesser charges. A man identified by family members in Iraq as Zaidoun Hassoun allegedly drowned when he and a cousin were forced to jump in the river after being caught breaking a nighttime curfew Jan. 3.
Defense attorneys say Iraqi insurgents have faked deaths to embarrass U.S. forces.
During the first day of an Article 32 hearing (search), the chief investigator in the case conceded under cross-examination Wednesday that she had not seen Hassoun's body. The hearing, the equivalent of a preliminary hearing in a civilian court, is to decide whether the three defendants will face court-martial.
Sgt. Irene Cintron said it was too dangerous to exhume the body, and she relied on the word of family members and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Force (search) that a body had been found several days after the men were forced at gunpoint to jump into the river.
Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins, 33, and Sgt. Reggie Martinez, 24, are charged with involuntary manslaughter, as is 1st Lt. Jack M. Saville, 24, whose Article 32 hearing is set for later. The third defendant in this week's hearing, Spec. Terry Bowman, is charged with assault for allegedly pushing the second man into the river at the same time. That man, a cousin of Hassoun named Marwan Fadel Hassoun, 23, survived.
Marwan Hassoun has told The Associated Press said he tried to help his cousin swim to safety, only to lose his grip as the soldiers watched and laughed from above.
"They were behaving like they were watching a comedy on stage," he said.
Attorneys in the case say troops in Iraq have not been able to locate Marwan Hassoun to get a sworn statement.
Sgt. Alexis Rincon, a member of the patrol Jan. 3, testified that none of soldiers believed the men were in danger because one quickly made it to shore. Another patrol member said he saw two civilians climbing out of the river and up the riverbank as he left the scene.
The defense was to call additional witnesses Thursday, including two men who have testified in the past about how the drug Lariam, given to troops headed to Iraq to prevent malaria, had resulted in attacks of rage. The military has stopped giving the drug to Iraqi-bound troops.
Once the hearing is complete, the hearing officer, Capt. Robert Ayers, will make a recommendation on whether the charges should be dropped or if the men should face a court-martial. The four soldiers face between 5 1/2 years and 26 1/2 years in prison if they are tried and convicted.