- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Military attorneys asked potential jurors about psychotherapy, sleep apnea and the death penalty yesterday as jury selection began in the murder case against an Army sergeant accused of killing two officers in a grenade attack two years ago in Kuwait.

The opening stages of the court-martial for Sgt. Hasan Akbar took place under tight security. Last week, he fought with a military police officer in the building.

Sgt. Akbar’s case marks the first time since the Vietnam War a U.S. serviceman has been prosecuted on charges of murdering another soldier during wartime.

The 33-year-old Muslim is accused of stealing grenades and using them and a gun in a March 2003 attack on fellow members of the 101st Airborne Division at an encampment in Kuwait during the early days of the Iraq war. He could get the death penalty.

Sgt. Akbar has said he was worried that U.S. forces would harm Muslims in the war, authorities said.

His lawyers planned to use an insanity or diminished-capacity defense. They also said Sgt. Akbar has sleep apnea — a condition in which interruptions in breathing repeatedly disrupt a person’s sleep — and has had trouble staying awake in court.

His legs and hands were shackled until midmorning, when the handcuffs were removed during a recess. He was put back in shackles when he was escorted by MPs to a vehicle after the hearing ended for the day.

During the court proceeding, MPs were stationed in the courtroom, in the hallway and outside the building. Everyone entering the building was checked with metal detectors. A bomb-sniffing dog checked the equipment of reporters and photographers.

During the first day of jury questioning, lawyers asked potential members of the panel that will judge Sgt. Akbar if they believed in psychotherapy. Some said they knew people who were helped by it. None of the panel of 20 officers and top sergeants from which a jury will be selected said they had religious objections to the death penalty.

Testimony was scheduled to start Monday.

The jury will be allowed to see photos of the dead officers, and passages from Sgt. Akbar’s diary.

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