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Military Trial Recommended for US Sergeant Accused in Grenade Attack - 2003-06-20


A U.S. military investigative officer is recommending a court martial for a Muslim-American Army sergeant charged in the deaths last March of two American soldiers in Kuwait.

A week-long hearing at Fort Knox, Kentucky closed Friday with Army lawyers delivering final arguments in the case of Sergeant Hasan Akbar. A combat engineer assigned to the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Sergeant Akbar is accused of killing two officers by tossing grenades into their tent while they slept in the Kuwaiti desert, just hours before they were set to join other American troops in combat in Iraq.

There has been testimony from at least one soldier who said Sergeant Akbar confessed to the grenade attack, saying he acted out of anger that U.S. troops were going after fellow Muslims. His mother has said that her son was taunted by fellow soldiers because of his faith.

"Given the circumstances, namely events occurring right close to where bullets are flying, where everybody's in danger, this is a very serious set of circumstances that the investigation revealed and how much sympathy he'll be able to generate will be quite a challenge for his attorneys," said Gene Fidell, an attorney specializing in military affairs and president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

This military hearing is similar to the grand jury system used by the civil criminal justice system for issuing indictments. But unlike that process, the military allows the accused to present information that could clear his name.

The commander of the Army's 101st Airborne Division will now have to make the final decision about whether to convene a formal military trial or court martial for Sergeant Akbar. If so - and he is convicted of all the murder and attempted murder charges against him - he could face the death penalty, which is rare in the U.S. military and a sentence that President Bush, as commander in chief, would have to personally approve.

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