American soldier charged for killing deaf and unarmed teenagers in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Michael Barbera "investigated" an area where two locals were killed by individuals posing as Iraqi Army and police at As Sadah, Iraq April 7, 2007.

A US soldier has been charged by military investigators of double murder in the fatal shooting of two deaf, unarmed Iraqi teenagers in March 2007.

The incident was made public in a Tribune-Review investigative report last year.

Then-Staff Sgt. Michael Barbera is accused of killing Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, and his brother Abbas, 14, as they tended to cattle in a palm grove near As Sadah, an Iraqi village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Barbera, 31, who was later promoted to sergeant first class, also is charged with lying to his commanders, directing fellow soldiers to lie to military investigators and making a threatening phone call to a civilian in an effort to keep what happened from becoming public.

He was charged on Wednesday at Alaska’s Fort Richardson and is in the process of being flown to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, where he will undergo a formal arraignment — called an Article 32 hearing in the military.

Defence attorneys at Lewis-McChord could not comment on the charges, which were confirmed by military officials. Barbara Junius, an Army spokeswoman. No date has been scheduled for Barbera’s hearing, but it likely will convene early next year.

Barbera was a small-kill team leader in Charlie Troop, 5th Squadron of the 73rd Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment out of Fort Bragg, N.C., engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq’s restive Diyala province when the killings occurred. Several of the cavalry scouts on the mission said Barbera killed the brothers and then lied to his commanders about how the boys died, a moral wound of war that they could not accept.

“None of us feel good about this. But I’m glad that the Army is doing the right thing,” said Ken Katter, 46, of Saginaw, Mich., the sniper assigned to Barbera’s team.

Katter was among the unit whistle-blowers who brought the case to the US Army, in part because they believed then that the boys’ deaths led to two truck bomb attacks on their forward outpost in As Sadah in the weeks after. Ten soldiers with the 82nd Airborne were killed in the attacks — the division’s worst loss since the Vietnam War.

Documents obtained by the Trib show investigators and prosecutors with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command who originally reviewed the allegations recommended Barbera be charged with two counts of murder and other charges. Such charges never made it to an Article 32 hearing.

In addition, Barbera is charged with communicating a threat for allegedly making a call from his mobile phone to the wife of a Trib reporter, threatening harm to keep the story from coming out.

When Barbera’s Article 32 hearing is convened, it will be the latest high-profile military criminal case at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In the past three years, prosecutors there have won convictions against a string of accused war criminals, including Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan villagers; John Russell, who shot to death five soldiers at a mental health clinic in Iraq; and Calvin Gibbs, the leader of another small-kill team in Afghanistan that murdered innocent Afghans and covered up the rampage.

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