U.S. soldier to hear charges for 2009 Iraq shootings

TACOMA, Washington Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:16pm IST

In this undated file photo released to Reuters on May 12, 2009, by the U.S. Navy, licensed clinical social worker Cmdr. Charles Keith Springle, assigned to the 55th Medical Company, is pictured at the Community Counseling Center in Camp Lejune, North Carolina. REUTERS/U.S. Marine Corps photo/Handout/Files

In this undated file photo released to Reuters on May 12, 2009, by the U.S. Navy, licensed clinical social worker Cmdr. Charles Keith Springle, assigned to the 55th Medical Company, is pictured at the Community Counseling Center in Camp Lejune, North Carolina.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Marine Corps photo/Handout/Files

Related Topics

TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier accused of killing five fellow servicemen at a military combat stress center in Baghdad in 2009 will face an arraignment at a military base in Washington state on Monday, preparing the way for a trial that could result in the death penalty.

Sergeant John Russell, of the 54th Engineer Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany, is accused of going on a shooting spree at Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, in an assault the military said at the time could have been triggered by combat stress.

The soldier faces five charges of premeditated murder, one charge of aggravated assault and one charge of attempted murder in connection with the May 2009 shootings. Six months ago, he was ordered to stand trial in a military court empowered to assign the death penalty if convicted.

Two of the five people killed in the shooting were medical staff officers at the counseling center for troops experiencing combat stress. The others were soldiers.

It is not known how Russell will plead after hearing the charges against him. An Army spokesman said Russell was expected to be in court during the arraignment. Russell's attorney, James Culp, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. No trial date has been set.

The arraignment, scheduled to take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, comes at a sensitive time for the Army, which is in the process of deciding how to prosecute Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing Afghan villagers in cold blood earlier this year.

A two-week hearing at Lewis-McChord to establish if there is sufficient evidence to send Bales to a court-martial wrapped up last week, a fter harrowing testimony from Afghan adults and children wounded in the attack.

Bales' civilian defense lawyers have suggested he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an argument that has already played a role in Russell's case.

In the days following the Iraq shooting, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the incident highlighted the risks of multiple deployments on soldiers and underlined the need to redouble efforts to deal effectively with combat stress.

Russell's attorney wrote in a memo this year his client was "facing death because the Army's mental health system failed him."

Army Colonel James Pohl, who presided over a preliminary hearing in the case last year at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, had called the death penalty an "inappropriate" punishment for Russell because of combat trauma concerns. That view was not shared by the Army's General Court-Martial Convening Authority, which referred the case as a capital crime in May.

At the time, an Army spokesman said that decision was made because of the severity of what he called "blue-on-blue" killings.

A recent Army study estimated as many as 20 percent of the more than 2 million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Before the shooting, Russell's commander had determined that Russell should have his weapon taken away.

(Reporting By Laura L. Myers; Writing by Bill Rigby; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney)

FILED UNDER:

Reuters Showcase

Countering China

Countering China

PM Modi to ramp up help for Indian Ocean nations to counter China influence  Full Article 

'India's Daughter'

'India's Daughter'

Society created Delhi gang rape convicts: Filmmaker Leslee Udwin.  Full Article | Related Story 

Kohli Censured

Kohli Censured

BCCI warns Virat Kohli against repeat of misbehaviour.  Full Article 

MUDRA Bank

MUDRA Bank

Funding the unfunded: India helps small business borrow to grow  Full Article 

PML(N)'s Hope

PML(N)'s Hope

Pakistan's ruling party looks for gains in upper house election  Full Article 

For Women's Right

For Women's Right

Afghan men don burqas, take to the streets for women's rights.  Full Article 

U.S. Envoy Attacked

U.S. Envoy Attacked

Knife-wielding attacker slashes face of U.S. ambassador in South Korea  Full Article 

New Strategy

New Strategy

Ashwin mulls 'one-sided' ploy against big-hitters.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage