A U.S. Army tank company commander accused of murdering a man in Iraq fatally shot him out of pity at his injuries, a witness testified Wednesday at hearings to determine whether he should face a court-martial.
Capt. Rogelio Maynulet, of Chicago, is accused of killing a driver for militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr while on patrol May 21 near Kufa, south of Baghdad. He has denied the charges of murder and dereliction of duty.
His unit spotted a speeding sedan believed to be carrying al-Sadr militiamen, and a chase ensued. U.S. soldiers fired shots at the vehicle, wounding the driver and a passenger.
On Wednesday, military prosecutors presented statements made to investigators by a subordinate, 1st Lt. Colin Cremin, who said Maynulet told him that "they pulled out the driver" and that part of his skull had been blown away.
"Nothing could be done for him and at that point Capt. Maynulet told you he stepped back and shot him in the base of the neck or back of the head," said prosecutor Capt. Daniel Sennott, quoting Cremin's earlier statement.
Cremin confirmed the statement. At another point, he described the act as a mercy killing.
"It was something he didn't want to do, but it was the compassionate response. It was definitely the human response," Cremin said.
He testified that it was impossible to transport the injured man to get medical care, because "it would have compromised the lives of the soldiers."
Prosecutors cited 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.
However, several witnesses, including officers and enlisted soldiers who served with him, described Maynulet as a calm man who was willing to help Iraqis.
The driver Maynulet is accused of killing was identified by relatives as Karim Hassan, 36. The family does not dispute that he was working for al-Sadr.
An unmanned military aircraft caught the killing on tape and that recording was introduced into evidence Wednesday, military spokesman Maj. Michael Indovina said.
Reporters were asked to leave as an expert witness in neurosurgery viewed the tape because the hearing officer, Maj. Michael J. Fadden, said it might show the capabilities of U.S. technology in Iraq.
The so-called Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a U.S. grand jury investigation, is scheduled to end Friday. No immediate decision is expected on a court-martial.
At the last round of hearings in July, Maynulet's former commander, Col. Michael Ryan, testified that he was an "excellent officer" who was "special, trustworthy and honest." Maynulet said he was confident the charges would be dropped.
Maynulet's command of his tank company was suspended May 25 but he remains with his unit, serving on the division's planning staff.
U.S. soldier's treatment of prisoners has been under scrutiny since the broadcast in April of photographs of the apparent abuse of detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. That touched off investigations of U.S. detention practices around the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Seven U.S. soldiers have been charged in the Abu Ghraib incidents, and a recent Army report said officers also bear some blame for allowing the mistreatment of inmates. A civilian Pentagon panel faulted Defense Department leaders for creating a confusion patchwork of rules on interrogations.
Other soldiers and a civilian contractor are charged in incidents outside of Abu Ghraib.
Last week, a Marine reservist was found guilty of dereliction of duty and the abuse of prisoners last year at a makeshift detention camp in Iraq, but cleared of assaulting a 52-year-old Iraqi man who later died there.
Marine Sgt. Gary Pittman's wife cried as the military jury's verdict was read following four hours of deliberation. Pittman, wearing a khaki-and-green uniform adorned with his service ribbons, stood without reaction.
Pittman, 40, a federal prison guard in New York in his civilian life, was acquitted of the most serious charge, of karate-kicking 52-year-old Nagem Hatab in the chest shortly before the Iraqi was found dead in a dusty yard at the facility known as Camp Whitehorse.
An autopsy found Hatab had six broken ribs, as well as several deep bruises, and apparently died from suffocation caused by a broken bone in his throat.
Pittman took the stand Wednesday and testified that he never assaulted a prisoner. He was one of the only witnesses to say that he saw no abuse at Camp Whitehorse.