By Mollie Miller
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD A 4th Infantry Division soldier was sentenced Saturday to six months of confinement for ordering members of his platoon to force Iraqis into the Tigris River at gunpoint.
Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, 33, a member of the divisions Colorado-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team, was also reduced one rank to staff sergeant and ordered to forfeit $2,004 of one months pay.
The jury of six Fort Hood soldiers deliberated 3 hours Saturday. It considered a sentencing range of no punishment to a dishonorable discharge, rank reduction and 11 years in prison.
Prosecutors had recommended five years of confinement and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.
Perkins was found guilty of assault consummated by battery, obstruction of justice and two counts of aggravated assault late Friday. He was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Following the sentencing, Perkins was transported to Bell County Jail, where he will be held until the Army determines which military detention facility has an open room.
Perkins was on trial last week facing charges stemming from his part in a Jan. 3, 2003, incident in which a 19-year-old Iraqi civilian, Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, apparently drowned after being forced into the river in Samarra, Iraq, by members of Perkins platoon.
Perkins also faced an aggravated assault charge stemming from a Dec. 5, 2003, incident when he ordered one of his soldiers to throw another Iraqi civilian into the river in Balad, Iraq.
Earlier Saturday, Perkins tearfully apologized to his family, to his company commander, his chain of command and to his soldiers.
If I had to go back, I would definitely do something different on those days, Perkins said in an emotion-choked voice.
He discussed the events surrounding the river incidents. The veteran of more than 100 patrols in Iraq explained that throwing the Iraqis in the river was an action meant to show aggressive Iraqis that the American soldiers werent weak. Showing a weak face to insurgents and others was very dangerous, Perkins said.
Detainee abuse goes against Army values, 4th Infantry spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said following the trial. The 4th Infantry Division and the Army will continue to investigate allegations of detainee abuse and, if necessary, prosecute them.
The sentencing came following three hours of testimony from six soldiers and one civilian who called Perkins technically and tactically proficient, an outstanding soldier and a hero.
(Perkins) is within the top 10 percent of (the noncommissioned officers) I have ever known, Sgt. Maj. Richard Joyce said.
Joyce, whose son recently graduated from infantry basic training, told the court that there is not another sergeant first class that he would trust his son to serve under.
(Perkins) is mission first and he looks after his soldiers, the 21-year Army veteran said.
Also testifying was Capt. Matthew Cunningham, Perkins company commander at the time of the Tigris River incident.
Cunningham called his former platoon sergeant a trusted confidante and a true leader. When asked by a juror if he set the conditions in his company that led to the alleged drowning, Cunningham responded that he had encouraged his soldiers to think outside the box and bring the fight to the enemy.
Because of my actions, Sgt. 1st Class Perkins has been convicted, the former commander said as he struggled to remain composed.
Toby Perkins testified on his brothers behalf. Calling Perkins his best friend and role model, Toby told the jury how, despite the familys urging, his brother always was quick to re-enlist when the time came around because he loves the Army.
During her closing argument, prosecutor Capt. Megan Shaw asked the jury to focus on the magnificent impact of Perkins actions.
Citing the very personality traits the defense witnesses had highlighted in their earlier testimony, Shaw said the fact that Perkins was a good leader who commanded respect and admiration from his troops made his crime that much more deplorable.
Shaw added that incidents like throwing Iraqis into the river cannot be a common means of nonlethal punishment if America hopes to win the war on terrorism.
This cannot be allowed, not with the way we fight now, Shaw told the jury, reminding it that a world full of soldiers was waiting for its decision. Send a message not only to Sergeant Perkins but to any other soldier, any other leader who believes that criminal behavior on the field of battle is in any way acceptable at any time.
Also facing charges for the same Jan. 3, 2003, incident is Perkins platoon leader, 1st Lt. Jack Saville, 24, who has been charged with the same crimes as Perkins, along with a conspiracy charge.
Savilles trial, delayed to allow time for officials to exhume Zaidouns body, is scheduled to begin in March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Mollie Miller at email@example.com