'Nightmare' killing of 2 Iraqi youths detailed during military hearing
TACOMA, Wash. — A former radioman for an Army Small-Kill Team testified on Wednesday that he saw then-Staff Sgt. Michael Barbera look through his M-4 scope and fatally shoot two deaf, unarmed Iraqi boys in 2007.
John LoTempio, then an Army specialist, said one youth was shot in the head, and the other raised his hands and said, “Hello, mister,” before he was shot in the head. Barbera then ordered the reconnaissance team to abandon its position in a palm grove outside As Sadah, Diyala province, LoTempio said.
The boys were about 500 to 600 feet away, holding hands, when he first saw them, LoTempio said, and gave no impression they might be a threat. Years after the incident, LoTempio said he sought counseling.
“I was having nightmares about it,” he said. “I just tried to put it in a box.”
In cross-examination, David Coombs, a civilian attorney and Army Reserve lieutenant colonel heading Barbera's defense, highlighted conflicting testimony from LoTempio and medic Andrew Harriman, the first witness during an Article 32 hearing.
Harriman testified that Barbera shot 4 to 6 rounds and struck one youth in the chest. LoTempio testified that he awakened Barbera, who got into firing position; Harriman said Barbera knelt beside him and fired, awakening the sleeping medic.
The military's case against Sgt. 1st Class Barbera in the shooting deaths of the brothers tending cattle is a three-part story with one central point, the prosecution said in opening remarks.
“These children were unarmed. These children posed no threat. These children gave no evidence of a hostile threat,” Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, who heads the prosecution team, said in an opening “road map” statement at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
But Coombs characterized it as a four-part story that hinges on the credibility of the military's witnesses. “These individuals have no credibility,” he said, adding that some have “hidden agendas.”
He said that includes allegations former Sgt. Ken Katter, a member of the Small-Kill Team, made to “any reporters who will listen to his dribbles.”
Barbera is charged with two counts of premeditated murder for shooting Ahmed Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, and his brother, Abbas, 14, on March 6, 2007, near the village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Barbera also is charged with two counts of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, for allegedly telling authorities the youths might have been wearing suicide vests and for allegedly calling the wife of Tribune-Review reporter Carl Prine and threatening harm if Prine continued to pursue the story.
The military filed charges after the Trib in December 2012 published an investigative report, “Rules of Engagement,” about the killings and the aftermath. The Department of Defense reopened the case in response to members of Congress who read the newspaper's eight-page special section, which won a national Investigative Reporters and Editors Award and other honors.
Coombs, who won praise for his representation of Pfc. Bradley Manning in the infamous Wikileaks case, said he intends to impeach the credibility of each of the military's witnesses. He began with Harriman, who spent several hours testifying.
Harriman testified that he fired a shot that killed the boys' adult, deaf cousin near a wall to which the team fled after the first shootings. He said it appeared the young man was reaching for a weapon from a U.S.-style military holster.
Family members told the Trib that he carried grass shears for the cattle in the holster. No one is charged in connection with that death.
Harriman testified that Barbera ordered two other members of the unit to fire on the boys' cousin — if one had the shot. Coombs noted that Harriman did not mention that to Army investigators.
Harriman, a paramedic in Clearwater, Fla., testified that he did not like Barbera, who he accompanied on 10 to 16 missions as a fill-in. He said he did not like Barbera's interaction with soldiers, thought he was a compulsive liar and considered him an incompetent leader.