GI who killed Afghan civilian waits to learn if he faces court-martial
Stars and Stripes July 11, 2012
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A soldier charged with negligent homicide in the shooting of an Afghan civilian will have to wait until later this month to learn if his case will be recommended for court-martial.
Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor of the 54th Engineer Battalion in Bamberg is charged with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty in the July 2011 shooting death of Dr. Aqilah Hikmat, following a firefight in Wardak province.
After a hearing last month, an investigating officer from the 16th Sustainment Brigade in Bamberg had 10 days to review the case and submit a report with recommendations that could include court-martial to the brigade’s commander, Col. Darren Werner.
On Tuesday, the investigating officer, Lt. Col. Alva Hart, requested and was granted an extension to submit the report, according to U.S. Army Europe. He now has until July 31.
Hart’s report will be the first step in a process that ends with a decision by Col. Bryan Rudacille, head of the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command and the general court-martial convening authority for the region.
If court-martialed and convicted on the homicide charge, Taylor could face three years in prison.
In the hearing last month, Taylor, 31, said he believed Hikmat was moments away from detonating a bomb when she stepped out of a car that drove into a firefight between U.S. troops and insurgents. Hikmat and her family had attempted to drive around the firefight that erupted after Taylor’s route clearance platoon hit a massive roadside bomb.
The platoon fired on the vehicle, killing Hikmat’s son and niece and injuring her husband. Taylor and others later approached the vehicle as they traced a command wire — often used to detonate roadside bombs — that appeared to run toward it.
When Hikmat suddenly emerged, Taylor had seconds to react, he told the hearing.
“I continue to believe I made the best decision I could under the circumstances,” he said in the hearing.
Army prosecutors argued Taylor violated rules of engagement by failing to establish positive identification before pulling the trigger. Taylor’s attorney, James Culp, said the Army is “Monday-morning quarterbacking” a battlefield decision.
More than two dozen witnesses testified during the hearing, including members of Taylor’s unit, the 38th Route Clearance Platoon, investigators and former peers.
Testimony focused on Taylor’s mindset at the time of the shooting and his unit’s familiarity with the rules of engagement. The platoon faced an especially violent deployment in which roadside bombs were a fact of life, unit members testified. That violence is now etched into Taylor’s face — 10 days after the shooting, he was seriously injured when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle.
Taylor remains in Bamberg as he awaits word on his case.