New York

Message Delivered; Iraqis, Invisible.


Tracy Perkins, an army platoon sergeant, received a six-month sentence yesterday for ordering his soldiers to throw two Iraqi cousins, Zaidoun and Marwan Hassan, into the Tigris a year ago, after they allegedly either threatened U.S. troops, or broke curfew. Zaidoun’s family says he drowned in the river that day, and that his body washed up two weeks later.

Perkins received a demotion, but won’t be discharged from the army.

This is a bizarre, disturbing, confusing tale. To begin with, Perkins’s defense lawyers contended that there’s no proof that Zaidoun is actually dead. His family produced a video they said showed him in a coffin, but jurors apparently believed soldiers who said they saw two men on the banks of the river afterwards, and testimony citing an informant in Iraq who said that Zaidoun is still alive.

Why can’t anyone go figure out whether he’s alive or dead? The army said they couldn’t exhume the body because of the “security situation.” The judge in Perkins’s case has ordered an autoposy for the trial of the platoon commander, which begins in March, but according to a report today, this process has yet to start. It seems to me that someone — from the army, or a journalist — could head on over to the man’s neighborhood, and house, and find out in pretty short order what the story is. It seems important.

Zaidoun’s death is the most troubling question, but not the only one. The Houston Chronicle reports that Perkins had the two arrested to send a message about defiance. But the cousins were arrested before curfew, “a few hundred yards” away from their home. One of the soldiers who testified on Perkins’ behalf called them insurgents, not curfew violators, but there seems to be little evidence for that. Here’s some more from the Chronicle:

Military prosecutors had asked jurors to “send a message” to troops in Iraq that mistreatment of detainees would not be tolerated. But jurors, who could have sent Perkins to prison for 11 years, settled on the most incarceration time that wouldn’t have resulted in him being reduced in rank to private.

The jurors also balked at the prosecution request to bounce him out of the Army with either a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge. However, he was ordered to forfeit $2,004 in pay.

Earlier, Perkins said his actions were wrong but that he did not want to lose the job he loves. He tearfully apologized to his family, commanding officers and subordinates. Perkins, who did not testify during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial, did not apologize to the Iraqi victims.


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