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Iraqi Drowning: GI Partly Off Hook

An Army sergeant was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in the alleged drowning of Iraqi civilian, but convicted of assault for forcing the man and his cousin into the Tigris River for violating curfew.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, 33, was convicted Friday of two aggravated assault charges, a charge of assault consummated by battery, and a charge of obstruction of justice.

He faces a penalty ranging from no punishment to 11-1/2 years. The sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Saturday.

Perkins and another soldier were accused of ordering soldiers to push the two Iraqis into the river in Samarra. Prosecutors say Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, drowned and his cousin, Marwan Hassoun, climbed out the river.

Defense attorneys contended Zaidoun may still be alive, but say if he is dead, it was not at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

Marwan Hassoun testified that he and his cousin were forced at gunpoint into the river as U.S. soldiers laughed.

He said he tried to save his cousin by grabbing his hand, but the powerful current swept Zaidoun away. Marwan said the body was found in the river nearly two weeks later.

"I was fighting death. I had no other choice but to do everything possible to survive," Marwan testified through an interpreter.

But three soldiers called by the defense testified that they were looking through night-vision equipment that night and saw two Iraqis on the river bank after the incident.

Sgt. Irene Cintron, an Army investigator, testified that government officials never had Zaidoun's body exhumed for testing because of security concerns. She said she could not confirm whether the corpse shown in a video provided by the family was Zaidoun's.

Perkins was convicted by a jury of Army officers and enlisted members, who deliberated 17 hours over two days and were allowed to consider lesser charges against Perkins, who has been in the military for 14 years.

Perkins was convicted of assault consummated by battery in Zaidoun's purported death, which carries a maximum sentence of six months. He was convicted of aggravated assault in connection with Marwan Hassoun and for ordering a soldier to throw another Iraqi man into the river in December 2003 near Balad. He was found innocent of making a false statement.

Defense attorney Capt. Josh Norris said in closing arguments that the soldiers were trying to find non-lethal ways to deter crime and establish respect in the hostile area.

No soldiers disputed that the two Iraqis were forced into the river. Soldiers testifying for the prosecution and defense said they never heard Perkins order the Iraqis into the river and that he stayed in his vehicle that night.

The soldiers said the orders came from Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville, the platoon leader, who is to be tried in March on the same charges as Perkins — as well as a conspiracy charge. His trial was postponed until March after a judge ordered the victim's body to be exhumed for an autopsy and identification.

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