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Archive for Thursday, November 17, 2005

Soldiers: Infantry officer wouldn’t have OK’d killings

November 17, 2005

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— A young infantry officer was too concerned about the rules of engagement in Iraq to make the mistake of telling his men to kill innocent civilians, soldiers testified Wednesday.

The testimony came during a military hearing to determine whether 2nd Lt. Erick J. Anderson should face a general court martial for the deaths of two Iraqis at the hands of his soldiers in August 2004. Prosecutors allege he gave his soldiers permission to kill the civilians.

"I don't think anyone in their right mind would tell anyone to do that," said Sgt. Jacob Smith, who served with Anderson's platoon in the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry.

Anderson, 26, of Twinsburg, Ohio, led a platoon that deployed to Iraq in June 2004. The murder charges are based on the statements of two soldiers convicted of the crimes who want to shorten their time behind bars.

Those men were expected to testify Wednesday night and This morning.

The cases in which he's charged happened while his men were battling followers of a radical Shiite cleric near Sadr City.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Anderson in January, saying there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute him. But they left the investigation open and the case was transferred back to Fort Riley for further review. New charges were filed in October.

Prosecutor Capt. Chuck Neill said Anderson authorized an unlawful use of force in Iraq and was guilty of failing to enforce military standards of conduct within his platoon.

Anderson's attorney, Neal Puckett, said Anderson and his platoon sergeant conducted the initial investigations, and Army investigators only pursued charges after soldiers became concerned about recent combat actions.

In the first incident, in August 2004, Anderson's platoon fired on a trash truck carrying young Iraqis. Two soldiers, Staff Sgts. Johnny Horne Jr., of Wilson, N.C., and Cardenas Alban, Inglewood, Calif., were convicted of killing an Iraqi teenager they say was suffering from severe wounds from the attack.

The soldiers described the event as a "mercy killing," and each served a year in prison.

Alban testified Wednesday that Anderson was aware Horne was going to shoot the teenager.

"He said 'Do what you have to do,"' Alban recalled Anderson telling Horne.

Alban said he became impatient that the mission was taking too long and walked over to Horne and the teenager. Alban fired a short burst of rounds into the boy in hopes of ending the situation quickly.

Horne was scheduled to testify Wednesday evening, but backed out at the last moment. Speaking from his home in North Carolina, Horne said he wouldn't testify without being granted immunity, which would prevent him from facing additional charges.

Prosecutors agreed to discuss the matter with Fort Riley officials, and Horne could testify today.

The second incident happened only days after the first.

Sgt. Michael P. Williams, of Memphis, Tenn., was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of two Iraqi civilians, and Spc. Brent May of Salem, Ohio, was sentenced to five years.

Puckett said he believes the new charges, lodged in mid-October, are partly the result of statements made by some of the convicted soldiers.

An Army investigator testified Wednesday that Williams implicated Anderson in the shooting of an unarmed Iraqi only after his prison sentence in the shooting was reduced to 25 years from life.

However, Spc. Tulafona Young described Williams as a person who could get others to do what he wanted, and who tried to convince other soldiers to go along with his story. Young said Williams talked about "taking no prisoners" when the unit deployed to Iraq.

"Sgt. Williams has his way of convincing people," Young said. "I believe he was a tough guy."

Williams, who is serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, is scheduled to testify in person Thursday morning.

Spc. Walter Cambron, who was Anderson's gunner on his Bradley fighting vehicle, said the lieutenant was conscious of the rules of engagement, making certain they were understood before each mission. As such, he wouldn't condone the killings, had he known they were about to happen, Cambron said.

Anderson becomes the seventh member of the infantry battalion to face murder charges in the past year.

In June, Sgt. Aaron Stanley, of suburban Phoenix, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the Sept. 13, 2004, killings of two soldiers at Stanley's farmhouse outside Clay Center, about 30 miles west of Fort Riley.

A month later, a military judge sentenced Sgt. Eric Colvin, 24, of Papillion, Neb., to 12 years in prison on drug charges related to the Clay Center shooting. Prosecutors dropped murder charges against Colvin in exchange for his testimony against Stanley.

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