Hearing may reveal details on March grenade attack in Kuwait

Sunday, June 15, 2003

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- A deadly grenade attack on troops sleeping in their tents in Kuwait is all the more jarring for survivors and relatives because of the man accused: a fellow U.S. soldier.

An Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, begins Monday for Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, who is charged with killing two officers and injuring 14 others in the March 23 attack.

"It was worse than an act of treason," said retired Chaplain Maj. Thomas G. Westall, a friend of the family of one of the men killed, Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone. "The sheer cowardliness is unexplainable."

Akbar, from the 101st Airborne Division's 326th Engineer Battalion at Fort Campbell, has the right to testify on his own behalf but the Army has not said whether he is expected to do so.

Akbar, 32, could face the death penalty if convicted in a court martial. He faces two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Before the hearing at Fort Knox, 150 miles east of Fort Campbell, the Army had not suggested a possible motive in the early morning attack on three separate tents. However, George Heath, a Fort Campbell spokesman, said shortly after the attack that Akbar had "an attitude problem."

Akbar's mother, Quran Bilal, told The Tennessean of Nashville she thought her son might have been accused because of his Muslim faith. She could not be reached for additional comment; no active phone listing for her could be found.

The Army had not released the names of Akbar's court-appointed military attorneys Saturday. Akbar had the right to hire outside civilian attorneys but did not do so, officials said.

Westall said Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho, left two children, ages 11 and 7, both being raised by his ex-wife, Tonya. Westall said none of the answers they've received so far are enough.

"It's hard for her and her children to understand why another American would kill him with a hand grenade," Westall said.

Also killed was Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa.

Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher suffered severe internal injuries in the attack. His father, Jerry Wisher, said he was angered by news reports that he felt suggested Akbar was discriminated against because he is black and Muslim.

"It's not a race thing or anything else," said Wisher, of Florence, Ky.

"I've got my own feelings about this guy and it's not good," Wisher said. "I'm just glad my son's still alive. He was about an inch away from dying."

Despite the emotions involved and the publicity in the case, Akbar probably will be treated fairly by the military court system, said Robert Smith, a retired Army colonel who is the associate dean for the College of Law and the University of Oklahoma.

The military treats cases with great seriousness, Smith said. "I think a defendant is better protected in a military court than he or she would be on the outside," Smith said.

The 101st is a rapid-deployment helicopter assault division based at Fort Campbell, 50 miles north of Nashville, Tenn., with about 20,000 soldiers. Its soldiers are now in Iraq.

On the Net:

Fort Campbell: http://www.campbell.army.mil

Fort Knox: http://www.knox.army.mil/

Uniform Code of Military Justice: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/ucmj.htm

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