The one-star general who commanded a paratrooper now accused of murdering two Iraqi cattle herders did not learn about the shootings until more than two years after they took place, he testified in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord today.
It was a conspicuous lack of reporting for a deadly engagement in a team led by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera, who is in court this week for a preliminary hearing that could lead to his court-martial.
“That is something I would have had visibility of, or should have had visibility on,” Brig. Gen. Andrew Poppas said, recalling a March 2007 incident that took place when he was cavalry squadron commander leading about 600 soldiers.
Normally, Poppas said, soldiers reported fatal engagements as significant acts that could impact planned military operations. Three Iraqis died on Barbera’s mission that day. Soldiers shot one more man during their retreat from their hideout after Barbera killed the herders, they testified Wednesday.
No one among the seven soldiers who were with Barbera during their overnight reconnaissance mission raised concerns about the incident to Poppas during their 15-month deployment with the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
They also did not raise alarms to him or his subordinates in the squadron command about an unjustified killing in the year after the deployment when Poppas would visit one of the witnesses at a Fort Bragg medical unit.
Their silence was one of the reasons Poppas was skeptical about reports suggesting Barbera killed two Iraqi boys in an unjustified shooting when he first heard them. That did not happen until 2009, when Army criminal investigators began looking into the reports.
“When I was told about it, that’s two and a half years later, I was suspect of the allegation,” he said. “Honestly, I would have expected that to be reported at the time of the incident.”
The Army declined to press charges against Barbera after its first investigation. It filed charges against him late last year after The Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh published a report on the incident based on witness accounts.
Barbera now faces two counts of murder and two counts of obstructing an Army investigation.
He allegedly threatened the wife of the reporter who broke the story early in the journalist’s investigation. Deanna Prine, the reporter’s wife, testified today that the threatening phone call she received from a number connected to Barbera caused her to carry a gun for a time and to increase security in her house.
“It was very terrifying,” she said.
Poppas rose quickly when he came home from the cavalry deployment. He has since commanded a brigade and is now serving as the deputy commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ken.
His thinking has changed somewhat about the allegations against Barbera.
“I do believe two individuals were shot. I do believe that took place as of late, just by the depth the data that was made,” he said.