WIESBADEN, Germany — It was a huge mission, the defense said, a big part of the reason the 1st Armored Division had to extend past a year in Iraq.

It was “traffic control,” the prosecution said, with the hope of detaining a high-value target.

“The sum total of the operation?” prosecutor Capt. Dan Sennott asked Monday in his opening statement in the court-martial of Capt. Roger Maynulet, who is accused of assault with attempt to commit murder in the death of an Iraqi man last May. “Two detainees, a dead driver and — after searching 30 houses — one 9 mm pistol.”

Maynulet, of Chicago, has entered a plea of not guilty and could face a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted of assault with intent to commit murder.

Maynulet, wearing full dress uniform, stood as his lawyer, Capt. Will Helixon, entered the plea.

The prosecution and defense disputed many things as the trial began its first of what’s expected to be five days at Wiesbaden Army Air Field.

Prosecutors say Maynulet, 30, shot the man, Karim Hassan Abed Ali al-Haleji, twice in the head with his M-4 rifle as the man lay wounded and harmless on the ground, less than three minutes after an unmanned drone taking video of the mission showed the man apparently waving his arm.

Sennott told the six-member panel that the rules of engagement and the law of war do not allow such killings, even those claimed in mercy’s name.

Maynulet’s defense, according to the opening statement of one of his lawyers, Capt. Clinton Campion, would be that the tank company commander was operating in a hostile, chaotic environment, and that his actions were guided by the part of the law of war that says “maximize humanity, minimize suffering.”

A medic and a former Army specialist who was Maynulet’s driver both took the stand Monday to describe their version of events: How they’d been told to look for a black BMW possibly containing a very wanted man; how the black sedan had appeared near Kufa; how a tank fired at it and missed; and how the men in Maynulet’s Humvee shot it with their M-4s and it crashed into a wall.

They discussed seeing the driver, with blood coming from the back of his head, still in his seat, breathing noisily, until he was taken out and laid on the ground. And the former specialist said he was just feet away when he heard an unexpected rifle shot, jumped back, looked around and saw it had come from Maynulet.

“Friendly fire,” Brian Herituku said he shouted, and then continued on his task of searching the BMW.

Testimony was buttressed by the video from the drone, which happened to be flying overhead and monitoring the mission. The video was played in open court Monday, showing the sedan racing through a neighborhood with a Humvee in pursuit, until the sedan crashes into a wall.

The video closes in on the scene below and shows one man running from the scene, while another Iraqi lays on the ground, apparently waving his arm. One soldier, whom the prosecution says is Maynulet, paces back and forth near the injured man, then what appears to be a muzzle blast can be seen.

An investigation in the case began after a military intelligence officer in Iraq viewed the videotape and sent his concerns up the chain of command. It was only after an investigation began, Sennott said, that Maynulet began telling people that he’d shot the man to end his misery.

According to testimony, Maynulet, whatever his motive, didn’t shoot until after a medic had told him the man was going to die.

Now it appears some former testimony from the medic is being called into question. Prosecutors and defense attorneys disputed whether the medic previously lied under oath about the extent of the Iraqi man’s injuries, or merely exaggerated. He has been given immunity from prosecution for perjury.

Maynulet would face a maximum 20-year prison sentence if convicted.

Maynulet offered to resign his commission instead of going to trial, Campion said Monday. That request was refused by the command.

Associated Press material was used in this report.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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