Soldier gets year in jail for faking terror report
Stars and Stripes November 23, 2003
SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Pfc. Ayman Khrino stood in the pre-dawn winter darkness at a roadside rest area south of Schweinfurt Feb. 3, gripping his 6.35 mm semi-automatic pistol.
Months of frustration boiled up inside him. He was angry that, a year after joining the Army to help fight the war on terror — hoping to use the Arabic-language skills he had learned growing up in Jordan — he instead found himself mopping floors and tinkering with Humvees.
The then-26-year-old soldier felt guilty that his frustration had led to fights at home with his wife, Danielle, that had upset his two children, ages 6 and 7.
“I felt that it was my fault that they were suffering,” Khrino told a military judge at his court-martial Friday.
So, in a half-hearted suicide attempt at the rest area, he fired the gun four times toward his left side, hitting himself once each in the hand and the leg. Panicked and bleeding, he hid the gun in the snow and headed to the military police station, where he told a tale of a mysterious attack by a man of Middle Eastern origin.
A week later in the hospital, his story would fall apart under the scrutiny of agents from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division — but not before his tale would prompt terror fears in the U.S. military community, an intensive manhunt by German police and international headlines.
“All that was done because Pfc. Khrino lied to the police,” said Capt. Jason Duncan, the military co-prosecutor at the court-martial. “He’s changed his story many times to suit his needs.”
Khrino, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, pleaded guilty Friday to a list of charges that included intentionally injuring himself, making a false official statement, failing to register a firearm, wrongfully discharging a firearm, and using disrespectful language to an officer and a noncommissioned officer. He was found not guilty of trying to avoid duty.
The military judge, Lt. Col. Robin Hall, sentenced Khrino to one year in prison and ordered him to be reduced to the lowest enlisted rank and given a bad-conduct discharge. But she also rebuked officials at the U.S. Army Confinement Facility in Mannheim for keeping him in virtual solitary confinement for five months, out of exaggerated concern for his personal safety.
Khrino spent the first months after the incident in hospitals and psychiatric wards. When he returned to Schweinfurt, he was confined to the base at Schweinfurt’s Ledward Barracks, though he was allowed visits from his wife and children.
His commanding officer, Capt. William Kirby, said the soldiers in Battery C — Khrino’s unit — had at first rallied around the injured soldier and felt betrayed when they learned he had lied. They were forced to spend time guarding him, escorting him and helping his family.
So Kirby had little patience when Khrino, in early June, sneaked off base to his family’s home, cursed out the MPs who came to arrest him and later cursed out Kirby himself. He ordered Khrino to the jail in Mannheim.
“At this point, I’d had it,” he said. “We were pulled six ways from Sunday, and then we had to put six to eight guys on Khrino.”
Dr. Walid Nassif, an Army psychiatrist who examined Khrino last June, testified that the soldier suffered from depression and a borderline personality disorder, a condition that caused him to act impulsively and self-destructively when under stress. He said the soldier posed little threat to others, though he might hurt himself, and had improved with anti-depressant drugs.
Arriving in Mannheim on June 5, Khrino said, he was put under suicide watch and confined to a spare 6-by-8-foot cell for 23 hours a day. He was allowed no contact with other prisoners, even at meal times, no entertainment except a single book, no work or exercise. He was barred from telephoning his wife, who had moved to Florida to live with her parents.
In mid-August the suicide watch was lifted, Khrino said, but the conditions of his confinement stayed the same.
“They basically kept him confined and isolated for more than five months,” said Capt. Jonathan Larcomb, Khrino’s attorney. “This is above and beyond anything any soldier should have to endure.”
Hall ruled Khrino’s living conditions, far harsher than other prisoners’, amounted to unwarranted punishment. She credited him with 98 extra days, in addition to the 171 he had actually served, meaning he will have to serve a maximum of three more months in jail. And she complimented Khrino for “keeping his sanity under conditions that most likely would have driven a sane person crazy.”
Khrino apologized for the embarrassment he had caused his family, his command and the Army.
“I am truly ashamed of myself for what I did,” he said. “I let a lot of people down.”