Guardsman Pleads Guilty in Killing of Iraqi Officer

By ALBERT SALVATO and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

New York Times

July 26, 2005

FORT KNOX, Ky., July 25 - A 22-year-old National Guard soldier pleaded guilty today to killing an Iraqi police officer while they were on patrol together, and then shooting himself to cover up the crime.

With his parents and his wife, Amber, looking on, Cpl. Dustin M. Berg of the Indiana National Guard, said he felt "great remorse" about shooting Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi in 2003.

Military prosecutors, who say the fatal shooting sowed a mistrust between Iraqi police officers and American soldiers that continues today, have asked a judge to sentence Corporal Berg to 45 months in prison and to discharge him dishonorably from the Army.

"I should have considered the Iraqi police officer to be an ally and not a threat," Corporal Berg said in court. "I believe I am negligent for the shooting. I should have used reasonable care. I should not have killed Mr. Zubeidi. I acted too quickly."

As he spoke, Corporal Berg held a crumpled tissue in his hand and frequently wiped his eyes and nose. Behind him, sitting in the courtroom's spectator section, his wife, who is seven months pregnant, and his parents wept openly.

The soldier had also been charged with two counts of lying to the military, but those charges were dismissed today.

Corporal Berg, of Ferdinand, Ind., served twice in Iraq with the First Battalion, 152nd Infantry, based in Jasper, Ind.

At least eight other American soldiers have been convicted or have entered guilty pleas related to charges of killing Iraqis.

The shooting occurred in November 2003 while Corporal Berg and Mr. Zubeidi were on patrol outside a flea market. The soldier testified that he had seen a suspected insurgent and moved to retrieve a radio to call his unit for instructions, but that Mr. Zubeidi had pointed a rifle at him and told him not to inform his superiors.

Corporal Berg said he had been in fear for his life, and in a "split-second decision," shot Mr. Zubeidi three times.

The soldier said he then shot himself with Mr. Zubeidi's AK-47 rifle because other soldiers in his unit had faced severe punishment for protecting themselves against suspicious Iraqis and he felt that Army investigators would not believe he killed the police officer in self-defense.

Thinking the unfamiliar weapon would fire only one bullet at a time, Corporal Berg said he accidentally shot himself three times in the abdomen instead of just once - because the weapon had been set on automatic fire. The soldier was hospitalized, but his wounds had not been life-threatening.

The soldier told Army officials that Mr. Zubeidi had shot him, and Corporal Berg was awarded a Purple Heart. Eventually, however, the soldier acknowledged that the wounds had been self-inflicted.

"I shot myself on purpose," Corporal Berg said today. "I didn't want there to be an investigation."

He added, "I'm lucky to be alive today."

Albert Salvato reported from Fort Knox, Ky., for this article, and Timothy Williams from New York.