Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, 29, of Chicago, will be tried on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and dereliction of duty, which carry a maximum combined sentence of 20 1/2 years, said Maj. Michael Indovina.
During Maynulet's Article 32 hearing -- the equivalent of a civilian grand jury investigation -- witnesses testified that the driver had been shot in the head when Maynulet saw him. A fellow officer said Maynulet told him he then shot the man out of compassion.
Maynulet was initially charged with murder, but 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey decided Monday to proceed with lesser charges at his court-martial. The Army would not say whether Dempsey was acting on the Article 32 hearing officer's recommendation or opted for lesser charges himself.
Maynulet's defense attorney, Capt. Will Helixon, could not be reached for comment.
Former commanders of Maynulet spoke highly of him during his hearing, saying he was a trustworthy officer and particularly good combat commander.
Prosecutors tried to paint a different picture, however, citing other incidents in which they maintained Maynulet broke military rules.
They said he had carried a non-regulation weapon and once broke into an Iraqi police station to retrieve an identification card for a civilian contractor.
The court-martial charges stem from a May 21 incident when Maynulet was leading his tank company on a patrol near Kufa, where heavy fighting had been reported.
They encountered a sedan thought to be carrying a driver for al-Sadr and another militiaman loyal to the cleric, whose supporters rose up against U.S. forces twice this year.
U.S. soldiers chased the vehicle and fired at it, wounding both the driver and passenger.
When a medic pulled the driver out of the car, it was clear he had suffered critical injuries, with part of his skull blown away, according to testimony during the Article 32 hearing held June 25-Oct. 14 in Baghdad and Hanau, Germany.
Maynulet's fellow officer, 1st Lt. Colin Cremin, testified that Maynulet told him he then shot the Iraqi in the base of the neck or the back of the head.
"It was something he didn't want to do, but it was the compassionate response," Cremin testified. "It was definitely the humane response."
A U.S. drone surveillance aircraft caught the killing was on video. The footage was replayed during the Article 32 hearings once the public and reporters were removed from the courtroom. Hearing officer Maj. Michael J. Fadden said the video would remain classified because it could reveal the Army's capabilities in Iraq.
The military has only referred to the driver as an "unidentified paramilitary member," but relatives named him as Karim Hassan, 36. The family does not dispute that he was working for al-Sadr.
Maynulet's command was suspended May 25 but he remains with his unit, serving on the division's planning staff.
The 1st Armored Division is headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany, although no venue has been chosen for the court-martial. No date has been set.
By David Rising