Appeal for soldier convicted in ’03 grenade attack

Hasan Akbar

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A military appeal hearing was set Thursday for a U.S. soldier sentenced to death for killing two fellow service members and wounding 14 others in a grenade attack in Kuwait nearly 10 years ago.

The hearing for 43-year-old Army Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar is scheduled for Nov. 18 in Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said on its website. Akbar was sentenced to death in 2005 by a military jury.

He was convicted of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in connection with an attack on the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait during the early days of the Iraq war. Prosecutors say he threw four hand grenades into tents as members of his division slept, then fired his rifle at soldiers in the ensuing chaos on March 23, 2003.

Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone was killed by a grenade. Army Capt. Christopher S. Seifert was fatally shot in the back. Fourteen soldiers were wounded, mostly from grenade shrapnel.

His appeal challenges the trial counsel’s. Maj. Jacob Bashore, one of Akbar’s military defense attorneys, said in a brief that the attorneys who defended Akbar during his trial should not have shown Akbar’s diary to the jury. The diary, which contained details of a conversion to radical Islam and expressed anti-government views, hurt Akbar’s case, Bashore said.

In one diary entry dated Feb. 23, 2002, Akbar wrote that he believed staying in the Army would eventually lead him to prison.

“I had a premonition that if I re-enlisted I would find myself in jail. That is probably true because I already want to kill several of them,” Akbar wrote of his fellow soldiers.

Trial lawyers also failed to comprehensively investigate Akbar’s background and didn’t turn up allegations that Akbar and his siblings were physically and sexually abused as children, Bashore wrote.

“Thirty-eight minutes. Barely a moment to explain thirty-one years of Sgt. Akbar’s life or its value,” Bashore wrote. “However, that is how long the defense sentencing lasted in this capital case.”

Bashore said Akbar joined the Army in 1998 after failing to find other work and struggled with memories of prior physical and sexual abuse and mental issues while serving.

“When faced with the stress of war and fighting other Muslims, he broke psychologically before committing violence upon his fellow soldiers,” Bashore wrote.

At trial, Akbar’s military defense attorneys contended that Akbar had psychiatric problems, including paranoia, irrational behavior, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.

Prosecutors say Akbar’s defense attorneys acted in his best interest to try and prevent a death sentence from being issued in one of the “most egregious offenses in modern military history.” The defense attorneys focused on the most viable arguments and witnesses, Maj. Kenneth Borgnino wrote.

“Every witness examined, every exhibit admitted, and every argument made during the court martial (not merely during the sentencing case), was focused on one fact: appellant was mentally ill,” Borgnino wrote.

Akbar was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a sprawling military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, and assigned to the 326th Engineer Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. He’s being held in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Akbar is one of five former soldiers under a sentence of death and the only one convicted for a crime stemming from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Akbar was the first soldier since the Vietnam War to be convicted for “fragging” fellow soldiers overseas during wartime.

 

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