Army drops murder charges over Iraqi boys' deaths

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 01, 2014 3:11 PM

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — The Army has dropped murder charges against a soldier in the shooting of two unarmed Iraqi boys during a blown reconnaissance mission in 2007, but he still faces prosecution on allegations that he obstructed the investigation and threatened a journalist's wife.

The murder charges were dropped against Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera after I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza at Joint Base Lewis-McChord reviewed the results of a pretrial hearing held last spring, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported (http://is.gd/CvBOMF ).

The results of the hearing have not been made public.

Witnesses said the brothers were shot as they herded cattle in Diyala Province. Barbera was part of a team that was supposed to remain hidden for a few days to monitor enemy activity.

Five soldiers who were with Barbera that day said in testimony at a pretrial hearing in April that they did not perceive the boys to be a threat. One, former Spc. John Lotempio, testified that the boys were 200 yards away when Barbera took a knee, aimed and fired.

The shooting wasn't initially reported up the chain of command, but the Army looked into it two years later and declined to prosecute. Some of Barbera's fellow soldiers remained troubled by that and spoke with a Pittsburgh paper, The Tribune-Review, which published an investigation in 2012.

Barbera was charged last fall. His lawyer, David Coombs, called the allegations baseless and questioned why — if the shooting violated rules of engagement and was so troubling — Barbera's comrades failed to report it for two years. Coombs alleged that the newspaper's "hit piece" and congressional pressure improperly influenced the Army's decision to file charges.

The remaining charges allege that Barbera threatened the wife of the Tribune-Review reporter, saying she needed to tell him to back off the story, and that he tried to get a soldier in 2009 to tell investigators the boys might have been wearing suicide vests.

Barbera could face up to eight years in confinement if convicted.

Barbera was serving with a cavalry squadron from Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division when the boys were shot.

___

Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com