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U.S. Soldier Accused Of Murder In Deaths Of Deaf Iraqi Boys

A U.S. Army sergeant who in 2007 allegedly shot and killed two unarmed deaf Iraqi boys who had no known ties to the insurgents then battling American forces, has now been charged with two counts of premeditated murder.

The story of what Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera allegedly did was spelled out in detail last December by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. An online version of the newspaper's 8-page report is posted here. It began its package of stories this way:

"AS SADAH, Iraq — Shortly before noon on March 6, 2007, Small Kill Team leader Michael Barbera rose from his squad's position in high grass in a palm grove here and shot two teenage cattle herders.

"A short time later, the Army staff sergeant ordered his soldiers to kill a third teenager walking toward them.

"Barbera would report to his superiors that the three dead boys were insurgents operating out of this farming village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.

"In reality, Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, his brother, Abbas, and their cousin, Muhamed Khaleel Kareem al-Galyani, both 14, were unarmed deaf mutes with no known ties to the insurgency. Their slayings angered most members of Barbera's squad — decorated combat veterans who reported the killings to Army investigators in Fort Bragg, N.C."

It was those other members of the squad who took their concerns to Army officials, and later to the Tribune-Review after Army brass initially overruled a recommendation from investigators that Barbera be charged. The soldiers were not only upset by what had happened, but were also convinced that 10 of their comrades were subsequently killed by suicide bombers who were retaliating for the boys' deaths.

On Friday, officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state announced that Barbera has been charged. The next step, according to The Associated Press, "is an Article 32 investigation which decides if he should be court martialed. No date has been scheduled for the Article 32."

The Tribune-Review notes that:

"When Barbera's Article 32 hearing is convened, it will be the latest high-profile military criminal case at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"In the past three years, prosecutors there have won convictions against a string of accused war criminals, including Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghan villagers; John Russell, who shot to death five soldiers at a mental health clinic in Iraq; and Calvin Gibbs, the leader of another small-kill team in Afghanistan that murdered innocent Afghans and covered up the rampage."

Related post from the Poynter Institute: "How an award-winning investigative reporter tracked killings in Iraq."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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