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Bridge case: Soldiers told to lie

From Silvio Carrillo

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
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FORT CARSON, Colorado (CNN) -- The commander of soldiers charged with forcing two Iraqi men to jump off a bridge into the Tigris river -- possibly resulting in the death of one of the detainees -- admitted in a hearing Friday he told his soldiers to lie about the incident.

Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman -- who was granted immunity for his testimony, but also received a reprimand -- said he told his men "not to talk about the water" because he was concerned with the way the military's Criminal Investigation Division was handling the case.

Sassaman testified in the Article 32 hearing for three soldiers that he felt the CID was very aggressive in its questioning of soldiers, and he was worried that if the truth came out, his men would face a court martial.

An Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, and will determine whether the case goes to a court martial.

The case stems from an incident in January in which U.S. soldiers -- who say they were under orders from a superior on the scene -- allegedly forced two Iraqi men detained for curfew violations to jump off a bridge over the Tigris River in Samarra, Iraq, and then lied about what happened.

Days after the incident, the soldiers heard rumors that a body had been found in the river, but during the hearing, two soldiers testified they saw two men making their way up the river bank shortly after Marwan Fadel Hassoun and his cousin Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun were freed of their handcuffs, taken to the edge of the bridge and told to jump.

Another soldier, Sgt. Alex Rincon -- who has received immunity in exchange for his testimony -- told the military court he stayed behind after the other soldiers returned to their vehicles, and saw one man reach the shore, which was less than 10 feet (3 meters) from where they had jumped in the river, he said.

The other man seemed to be swimming toward the shore, Rincon said, so he thought he was fine.

But then the soldiers were ordered to lie about what happened.

They were told to say, "we dropped them off, stripped them (uncuffed them), and that we left," said Rincon. "We didn't believe he drowned."

However, the family of Marwan Fadel Hassoun claims that he is dead and has offered video and pictures of his body.

It also agreed to an autopsy, after a tribal chief intervened, but for reasons still unclear, the U.S. military never exhumed the body.

"No body, no evidence, no case," said Capt. Joshua Norris, the attorney for Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, who is charged with manslaughter, assault, conspiracy, false statements and obstruction of justice.

But prosecution lawyers wanted to know why, if the detainees had been seen climbing out of the water, the soldiers did not say that in their initial accounts of the incident.

Aside from Perkins, Sgt. Reggie Martinez and Spec. Terry Bowman have also been charged in the case; Martinez with manslaughter and Bowman with assault. Both are also charged with making a false official statement.

Lt. Jack Saville, the commander in charge of the lead Bradley Armored Personnel Vehicle the night the incident occurred, will face an Article 32 hearing in September.

He is facing two counts of conspiracy, and one each of making false statements, assault, involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice.

The soldiers are from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

The case is now in the hands of Investigating Officer Capt. Robert Ayers, who will make a recommendation on whether the case merits courts martial.

That recommendation will go to Col. Brian Jones, the appointing authority, who initiated the Article 32 hearing.

Jones will either send the case on to the Commanding Authority, Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman at Fort Hood, or he will dismiss the findings.

However, Thurman can overrule Jones and proceed with a court martial.

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