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Case dropped against U.S. soldier initially accused of cowardice

'They made my life hell for nine months'


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Pogany in 2003
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(CNN) -- The U.S. Army Thursday dropped its case against a soldier who was initially accused of cowardice after he suffered a panic attack when he saw the bloody corpse of an Iraqi on his second day in the war zone.

The decision to drop the case against Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany came after a Navy doctor last month diagnosed him as suffering from damage to his balance system, most likely caused by Lariam, an anti-malaria drug issued to some troops serving in Iraq.

Hallucinations and panic attacks are among the possible side effects listed by Lariam's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals.

"The command reviewed all of the information, as well as Staff Sgt. Pogany's medical condition, and decided the best course of action was to drop the charges," said a spokeswoman for the Army Special Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Pogany told CNN in a phone interview Thursday that he wants the military to apologize.

"I think they owe me an apology," he said from Colorado Springs, Colorado. "They made my life hell for nine months."

Pogany was serving as an interrogator with a Special Forces unit when he arrived in Samarra September 29 after what he described as a tense convoy ride through Iraq.

When he went to bed that night, Pogany said, he was soon awakened by the commotion of a returning patrol. That patrol had been ambushed and had returned fire, he said, killing an Iraqi man.

Pogany said he glimpsed the man's mangled remains in an unzipped body bag, and when he later returned to his room he experienced nausea, hallucinations and panic.

"I had what I call a nervous breakdown, and was malfunctioning to the point where I didn't know what was happening," he told CNN in an interview last month.

Pogany said his reaction was so severe that he asked for help from his superiors to deal with the panic attacks. Instead of being given help, he was told to reconsider for the sake of his career.

Navy studying possible effects of Lariam

His medical records show he was sent to a combat stress clinic in Iraq and was diagnosed with a "normal combat stress reaction."

The clinical psychologist who evaluated Pogany recommended brief treatment in Iraq "with return to duty assumed."

However, a few days later, he was shipped back to the United States to face the cowardice charge, the first such case since the Vietnam War. Conviction on the charge can result in the death penalty.

The cowardice charge was reduced to dereliction of duty last November. The lesser charge was later dropped, but the case was open until Thursday's decision.

An advisory note by the Department of Veterans Affairs to its physicians last month told doctors and health care providers that side effects of Lariam include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, depression, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and other neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Dr. Michael Hoffer, an expert in balance disorders at the Navy's Spatial Orientation Center in San Diego, diagnosed Pogany and at least nine other service personnel with balance-related problems likely caused by Lariam.

The cluster of diagnoses has prompted the Navy to launch a study into the possible effects of Lariam among service members serving in Iraq.

CNN senior producer Maria Fleet contributed to this report.


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