- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Weeks before launching a deadly grenade attack on his comrades, Sgt. Hasan Akbar attended a camp screening of the movie “Apocalypse Now” and laughed during a scene in which U.S. troops were hit by a grenade, a soldier testified yesterday.

The testimony came as Sgt. Akbar’s attorneys opened their defense at his court-martial. Sgt. Akbar, 33, is accused of ambushing fellow troops from the 101st Airborne Division in their tents at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait in March 2003, during the opening days of the Iraq war. An Army captain and an Air Force major were killed.

Sgt. Akbar’s attorneys do not dispute his purported role in the attack, but hope to spare him a potential death penalty by showing that he was mentally incapable of premeditating it.

Spc. Joshua Rice testified that soldiers were watching the 1979 Vietnam War movie at their camp while they awaited orders to move into Iraq.

During a scene in which a woman tosses a grenade into a helicopter loaded with wounded U.S. soldiers, Sgt. Akbar, who was seated at the back of the room, burst out laughing, Spc. Rice said. Sgt. Akbar then got up and walked out, Spc. Rice said.

Prosecutors have said Sgt. Akbar planned the attack on his fellow soldiers. Last week, the prosecutors introduced diary entries in which he wrote that he might have to kill his “battle buddies.”

Earlier yesterday, a psychologist who examined the defendant as a teenager testified that Sgt. Akbar appeared incapable of relating to others.

Dr. Fred Tuton of Baton Rouge, La., said he first interviewed Sgt. Akbar in 1986. Local child-protection officials had sent the teenager for evaluation after his 4-year-old sister was found to have been molested by his stepfather.

“He never smiled at any time during my evaluation. That was very significant … not showing any emotion,” Dr. Tuton testified.

Dr. Tuton also said that Sgt. Akbar’s greatest worry was “becoming a nothing” and that he felt guilty because he was the eldest of five children and didn’t protect his sister from the abuse.

Several other soldiers testified yesterday that Sgt. Akbar was a loner. One sergeant said he relieved Sgt. Akbar of his job as a team leader because of poor performance.

Sgt. Akbar’s parents — Quran Bilal of Baton Rouge and John Akbar of Seattle — are attending the trial, but neither has made a public comment. Both are potential defense witnesses.

Sgt. Akbar is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. Prosecutors said he rolled grenades into tents in the middle of the night and fired on troops in the ensuing chaos.

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