Lieutenant Gets 45 Days for Forcing Iraqis off Bridge

Army lieutenant Jack Saville, a West Point graduate, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and a sizable fine for forcing two Iraqi teenagers to jump off a bridge at gunpoint and another assault in a separate incident.

U.S. Soldier Gets 45 Days for Iraqi Assaults (Reuters)

A U.S. Army lieutenant was sentenced on Tuesday to 45 days in jail and loss of $12,000 in pay for his part in assaults on Iraqi detainees that may have caused one to drown in the Tigris River. Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville pleaded guilty to assault for having two Iraqis thrown at gunpoint into the Tigris in Samarra, Iraq, in January 2004 and was convicted of lesser assault in a separate incident at Balad, Iraq, in December 2003.

Based on a plea agreement with prosecutors, he could have faced nearly two years in prison, but Col. Theodore Dixon gave him just 45 days and ordered his pay cut by $2,000 a month for six months.

[…]

In January, Saville’s co-defendant in the Tigris River incident, Army Sgt. Tracy Perkins, was convicted of assault and sentenced to six months in prison.

Both men initially faced manslaughter charges because one Iraqi tossed into the Tigris was believed to have died. But soldiers testified in Perkins’ trial that both men swam to safety and the death was faked. A judge’s order to confirm the death by exhuming what is said to be the body of the drowning victim was never complied with because of security problems, prosecutors have said.

Marwan Fadil, who survived the incident, testified in Perkins’ trial that he and cousin Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, begged for mercy and soldiers laughed as Hassoun drowned. They had been detained for violating curfew.

While this conviction is almost certainly a career ender, I’m baffled at the lightness of the sentence given these facts unless there is some incredible mitigation that’s not being reported. It would be one thing were this a young enlisted soldier. Saville, though, is an officer and a West Pointer, no less. He’s received extensive and systematic training in the laws of war.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Clint Lovell says:

    Oops. File this under “Fog Of War” or “Sh#t Happens”.

    The problem with conducting a war is that people usually have to do the fighting and studies show people are tragically flawed.

    So a patriot will be put out to pasture, a nation will be embarrassed, and the MSM will have a ratings bonanza.

    Pardon me for not jumping on the bandwagon. I find it hard to judge someone who is doing the worst possible job in the world under the worst possible conditions, and their reward is quite often their own death, so those that do survive can be second-guessed and persecuted for doing something that lacked judgment.

    Guess what?

    War is one big exercize in poor judgment.

    You don’t like war? Don’t piss us off.

  2. James Joyner says:

    This hasn’t a bloody thing to do with “fog of war.” Nor is it a “judgment call.” These are war crimes, pure and simple.

    I’m perfectly willing to be understanding of a soldier who gets a bit overzealous and shoots someone who turns out to be unarmed or some such. It’s hard to conceive, though, of a circumstance where forcing curfew violators to jump off a bridge, presumably to die, would present itself during combat operations.

  3. Alan Kellogg says:

    I must agree with James, the lieutenant made a bad mistake, and now he’s going to pay for it.

    You catch a pair of teenaged boys out after curfew you round them up, haul their butts back home, and give them holy hell in front of their parents.

    “We coulda shot you idiots! Dead! You wanna be dead?! You wanna!?”

    Scare the poop out of them and get their parents on your side. Works like a charm. 🙂

  4. DC Loser says:

    It never ceases to amaze me the apologists who will defend any kind of depravity. I agree with James that this guy got off very lightly. The wanton taking of a human life is not something that should be taken lightly. I don’t know what he was thinking when he did this, but he had to know that the chances of death was pretty high by ordering them to jump into that river in the dark. No wonder the Iraqis are pissed off at us, and the light sentence only adds to the belief that there is no justice when a crime is committed by US forces.

  5. Just Me says:

    I am not understaning why he only got 45 days as well, when the other guy got months.

    The military has often been of the stick it to the enlisted man, and be kind to the officer frame of mind, so I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of that going on.

    Seems to me like the Officer should at the least have a sentence as long as the other guy.

  6. LJD says:

    Nice to see so many willing to automatically take whatever side is against our troops. I wholeheartedly agree with Clint.

    The truth may never be known. In our country, and under UCMJ, a soldier is entitled to something called a trial. Information surrounding this incident is not fully known.

    When “soldiers testified in Perkins’ trial that both men swam to safety and the death was faked.”, do we want to take the “presumtion” that some one died?

    …And since when in our country or theirs, is a 19-year old a teenager? Fourteen year olds are running around Iraq with machine guns. These “kids” very well could have been shot to death for their indiscretion.

    Spanking? You gotta be kidding. Some can’t step outside their suburban perspective….
    Was it bad judgement? Yes. Was it conduct unbecoming of an officer? Yes. Should he have not done it? Certainly not. Should he be jailed for manslaughter or worse, with no proof, on the arguments of these “law-abiding” Iraqi “citizens”. Hell NO!

  7. Just Me says:

    Sorry, but part of having a good military is enforcing good military and legal standards.

    What this officer did absolutely was wrong, and would be a crime here in the civilian world (if you held a gun to somebody and forced them to jump off a bridge you would probably be going to jail too).

    Just because it is in a war zone, that doesn’t make this okay, or acceptable. Part of what makes our military strong is our willingness to punish the soldiers who do break the rules.

    This doesn’t call for years in prison, but 45 days seems on the light side, especially given that the enlisted guy involved got 6 months.

  8. LJD says:

    People in this country aren’t typically challenged with life and death situations on a daily basis. In Iraq, I’m sure soldiers point guns at people very regularly. I am not defending the officer, I am just looking for the slightest bit of compassion for his situation.

    A very similar situation exists where the ACLU and others constantly want charges brought against police officers for using “unreasonable force” to arrest dangerous criminals. So now you have this profession where an individual frequently risks their own life to make a living, for the public good, and are hung out to dry for it. They are left with the option to get another line of work, or look the other way. Neither solution is a positive thing for our society.

    Now we want to second guess our soldiers actions, from an armchair perspective. We should be glad that this is an issue. We should be glad to hear about these things, because our self-policing works. (Contrary to what you hear on the news, the Army has a strict code of conduct).

    If the opposite were true, we would kill those involved, so there would be no witnesses. We would cover up the occurence, not share it with the media. We would use tactics so brutal that the enemy would be afraid to make false witness.

    My fear is that when we make difficult jobs totally undesirable, because the cost to the individual is too high, there will be no one to fill them. Then you will see abuse, by unqualified candidates.

    I know a little something about this subject. My brother is a cop. I am a soldier. I wish we could get past the assumptions, like:

    If we hear of an abuse, automatically it must be true.
    If civilian stands witness against a soldier, automatically the soldier is lying because of “group-think” or “indoctrination” or whatever.
    If it’s anything that can be construed as a failure of the President’s policy, automaticaly, it must be true.

    I urge every one to rehink their perspective and the judgements placed on these individuals, doing a very difficult and thankless job. Doing things the average person would not do. Interacting with people the average person would not talk to. All for very little money, with a lot of danger and opportunity for life-altering injuries.

  9. Erin says:

    Jack Saville was a good friend of mine. He is one of the people that would give his right arm for someone. I think this is a traggic situation and shows the evils of war and the evil that it brings out in good people. He has apologized and I know that looking back he sees things more clearly. We don’t know what these soldiers see or deal with on a daily basis. We just have to hope that justice is done and that the truth is said. And leave the rest up to a higher power. Jack as well as ALL of the VICTIMS of this crime are in my prayers.