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U.S. Soldier Admits Killing Iraqi Cop

From Associated Press

An Indiana National Guardsman pleaded guilty Monday to negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi police officer, a crime he was accused of attempting to cover up by shooting himself in the stomach.

Cpl. Dustin Berg, 22, will spend 18 months in prison and receive a bad conduct discharge from the Army.

Berg, of Ferdinand, Ind., had changed his story multiple times during the investigation, initially saying the Iraqi police officer, Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi, had pointed an AK-47 rifle at him to prevent Berg from reporting insurgent activity.

But on Monday, Berg said Iraqi police officers, as a matter of habit, carried their guns with the barrels pointed slightly upward.

“I shouldn’t have automatically considered him a threat,” Berg said. “I misread the situation.”

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It was the latest in at least a dozen court-martials of U.S. troops accused in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

Berg was accused of killing the Iraqi police officer in November 2003, then shooting himself in the stomach to give the impression of a gunfight and to block an investigation.

He was awarded a Purple Heart when he returned from Iraq in February 2004, but the Army later concluded Berg shot himself.

Berg declined to speak with reporters after the court-martial, but he addressed the military judge in a tearful plea for a lenient sentence.

“You can’t explain what it does to you when you take somebody else’s life,” Berg said. “There is no punishment, there is nothing anybody can do that can take away the nightmares that come every night when I lay my head down to go to bed.”

Prosecutors had asked that Berg receive a dishonorable discharge from the Army and about four years of confinement. He had faced up to 14 years in prison.

Berg’s lawyer, Charles Gittins, asked the court to discharge but not confine Berg to a military prison because he was newly married and expecting a child.

“He’s already punished himself,” Gittins said. “He shot himself. He’s already pleaded guilty. He’s already accepted responsibility, but a lengthy term of confinement will have no rehabilitative effect.”

The charges against Berg raised questions about whether a soldier’s right to defend himself depended on the presence of a witness.


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