A 37-year-old supply sergeant has been charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the June 7 deaths of his company commander and operations officer at a U.S. military camp near Tikrit, Iraq, officials said Friday.
Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Infantry Division, is being held at a detention facility in Kuwait, according to the U.S. command in Baghdad.
The incident, which claimed the lives of Capt. Phillip T. Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen, was originally described by the military as an indirect fire attack on Forward Operating Base Danger, headquarters of the New York National Guard division. A few days later, though, the military said it had opened a criminal investigation.
With the two charges of Article 118 (murder) under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it now appears to be the first incidence in Iraq of what has long been known in military slang as “fragging” — the deliberate killing of a soldier’s own superior officers.
Military officials did not offer a possible motive in announcing the charges against Martinez. They also declined comment on whether Martinez was facing disciplinary action at the time of the incident.
“Staff Sgt. Martinez has been and will continue to be afforded the extensive rights under the [UCMJ],” Col. Billy J. Buckner, a Multi-National Corps-Iraq spokesman, was quoted as saying in a military release.
Soldiers at FOB Danger, a former palace complex along the Tigris River, told Stars and Stripes in recent interviews that they heard a series of four explosions the night of the attack. On Friday, the Los Angeles Times — citing an unnamed “knowledgeable source” — reported “hand grenades and a claymore mine may have been utilized.”
According to a Chicago Tribune story by reporters embedded at the camp, military investigators have drained a man-made lake adjacent to the building where the attack occurred, searching for possible evidence dumped there. Because it sits near the lake, 42nd ID soldiers have dubbed the building the Water Palace.
The charges come the same week as Esposito, 30, and Allen, 34, were buried in their hometowns.
Esposito was a West Point graduate who was married and had an 18-month-old daughter. Allen was a high-school science teacher with a wife and four young sons, family members have said.
Several media reports have said military officers and investigators believe Esposito was the intended target of the attack. Allen had arrived in Iraq only four days before the incident.
Martinez joined the National Guard in 1990 and deployed to Iraq in May 2004, according to military records. He is married and has two children. If convicted, he could face a range of punishments, up to the death penalty.
The charges against Martinez are similar to the case of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who was convicted in April of killing two 101st Airborne Division officers and injuring 14 other soldiers in March 2003 at a camp in the deserts of Kuwait.
Akbar was sentenced to death for that attack, which he said was an effort to stop U.S. soldiers from killing his fellow Muslims. The Akbar case was the first since the Vietnam War in which a U.S. soldier was accused of killing his wartime comrades.