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Army Hands Akbar Over For Court-Martial

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Army officials announced Thursday that Sgt. Hasan Akbar, an engineer with the 101st Airborne Division, has been handed over for court-martial stemming from an alleged attack on his own regiment in Kuwait.

Akbar faces two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. He is accused of throwing grenades into three of his regiment's command tents at Camp Pennsylvania on March 22, 2003, killing two soldiers and injuring 15 others.

The case was transferred to Fort Bragg from Fort Campbell, Ky., in July 2003. Most of the 101st has been in Iraq and cannot handle the case.

Fort Bragg is home to the 18th Airborne Corps headquarters, which oversees the 101st and other divsions.

Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commander, referred Akbar for court-martial and referred to the case as a capital case.

"Lt. Gen. Vines had to determine that there are reasonable grounds that the offenses occurred and that the accused committed them," Lt. Col. Jonathan Guden, of the XVIII Airborne Corps, said during a press conference at Fort Bragg. "There's a difference between reasonable grounds and 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'

"Lt. Gen. Vines spent a lot of time thinking about this case and decided that it should go through general court-martial."

No date has been set for the court-martial. Akbar is being held at a military prison at Fort Knox, Ky. , where an arraignment is to be held next week.

It will mark the first time since the Vietnam War that a U.S. Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during wartime.

The last death sentence handed down by the Army was in 1996 for Sgt. William Kreutzer, who killed one person and injured others when he fired as soldiers exercised on a field at Fort Bragg.

"This is very serious," said Lt. Col. Bill Buckner, of the 101st Airborne Division. "Two servicemen lost their lives, and it was allegedly done in a combat operation. We want to make sure all the right steps are taken.

"We are starting off here with Akbar as innocent until and unless he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Akbar is allowed to receive a jury trial by at least 12 soldiers, with at least four of them enlisted, like the defendant. He will have two military lawyers issued to him, and he has hired a civilian attorney at his own expense.

Guden said the jury will be chosen based on "age, experience and judicial temperament."

Prosecutors have alleged that Akbar stole seven grenades from a Humvee he was guarding, then walked to the brigade operations area an hour later to attack the officers.

An attorney for Akbar said last year that no eyewitnesses placed the soldier at the scene and that other soldiers were too quick to assume that he committed the crime because he is Muslim.

Guden said that the verdict from the jury must be unanimous. If Akbar is found guilty of the premeditated murder charges, the same panel of jurors then will decide his sentence.

A vote for a death sentence also must be unanimous and can only come after the jury has determined that at least one aggravating factor was in place and that it substantially outweighed any extenuating and mitigating circumstance.

Should Akbar be found guilty, other possible punishments could be a reduction in rank and pay, a discharge from the Army, or life in prison.

The Army has not executed a soldier since 1961.


Paul Ensslin, Web Editor

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