U.S. Soldiers Charged in Iraqi Drowning Death

Thomas E. Ricks

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, July 2, 2004; 7:19 PM

The Army charged three soldiers with manslaughter and a fourth with assault in connection with an incident last January in which they forced two Iraqi detainees to jump into the Tigris River.

Lt. Jack M. Saville, Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins and Sgt. Reggie Martinez of the 4th Infantry Division were charged with manslaughter, assault and making false statements. The fourth soldier, Spec. Terry Bowman, was charged with assault. Saville and Perkins also face charges of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Documents released by the Army name several superior officers, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman, as unindicted co-conspirators. Sassaman has been one of the highest-profile young officers in the Army for years because he quarterbacked West Point's football team to its first bowl game, the 1984 Cherry Bowl against Michigan State University.

The incident marks the first time that Army troops who served in Iraq have been charged with manslaughter or murder in connection with the handling of detainees. But there have been similar charges brought against other soldiers and reservists involving the treatment of Iraqi detainees.

According to the Army, Saville, a West Point graduate from Virginia, ordered his subordinates on the night of Jan. 3 to drive two Iraqi detainees to a bridge over the Tigris River in the Iraqi city of Samarra, in the Sunni Triangle. Saville, 24, then ordered his men to push the two detainees into the river as punishment for breaking curfew. One of the Iraqis drowned, the Army said.

When questioned about the incident, Saville and the others told military investigators that they had released the two Iraqis and seen them walking away, the Army said. Saville and Perkins also conspired with Sassaman, their battalion commander, Capt. Matthew Cunningham, their company commander, and one other officer to impede the criminal investigation, the Army said.

Saville faces up to 26 years in jail. Perkins, a veteran of 13 years in the Army from Scott City, Mo., faces an equal amount. Martinez, a five-year veteran from New York City, faces up to 15 years. The fourth soldier, Bowman, could get a maximum of five years. Army posts in the United States generally were closed today for the July 4 holiday, and none of the four soldiers charged or the others named as co-conspirators could be reached for comment. Army officials declined to release the names of their military attorneys.

The 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex., spent most of 2003 and early 2004 in Iraq. The charged soldiers were all from the division's 3rd Brigade, which is based at Fort Carson, Colo.

Col. Brian Jones, who recently took over as commander of that brigade, said he does not think there will be additional charges brought in the matter against other soldiers. "For this incident, that's all you can expect," he said in a brief telephone interview.

Army officials previously disclosed that Sassaman received a nonjudicial reprimand earlier this year. One Fort Carson soldier familiar with the incident in Samarra said he has been told that Sassaman will serve out his command of the battalion and then retire from the Army. But Jones, Sassaman's immediate superior, said he could not confirm that.

The soldiers are the latest of several to be charged in incidents involving detainee abuse. Two Marine reservists were charged with negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi detainee in June 2003. The seven Army reservists charged in the torture scandal of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison face lesser charges, such as abuse. Also, a former CIA contractor, David Passaro, has been charged with assault in connection with the June 2003 beating death of a detainee in Afghanistan.

More recently, Army Capt. Rogelio M. Maynulet, 29, was charged with murder and dereliction of duty for the suspected killing of an Iraqi man near Kufa in May. The charge was made public last month but without identifying the charged officer. The Army named Maynulet yesterday as the officer and also disclosed some details of the case. It said the charges stem from an incident in which Army soldiers chased a car believed to contain militia forces. The soldiers shot the driver and a passenger. "Shortly thereafter, the wounded driver was shot and killed at close range," the Army said in a statement yesterday.

Maynulet, a 29-year-old Chicagoan who commanded a company in the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Armored Regiment in the 1st Armored Division, could not be reached for comment. Earlier this year, "Armor," a professional Army journal, carried an article by him on how to command a company in peacekeeping operations. He counseled that commanders "need to think creatively, be flexible, and empower their subordinates."

Staff researcher Robert E. Thomason contributed to this report.