Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PETERSBURG, Va. — A soldier testified yesterday that he saw Sgt. 1st Class Timothy L. Drake beat an Iraqi detainee with a baseball bat, then assaulted a detainee himself when goaded by Sgt. Drake.

Spc. Angel M. Bonilla was the first witness at Sgt. Drake’s court-martial on charges involving the beating and attempted cover-up of the incident.

Sgt. Drake, 40, is accused of striking the detainee in December 2003 at Forward Operating Base Mercury, near Fallujah. He hit the detainee with a baseball bat in the abdomen, hip and head, according to charges.

Spc. Bonilla said that after he saw Sgt. Drake strike the detainee, Sgt. Drake told him, “B, come get a piece of this.”

Spc. Bonilla said he grabbed a bat from outside the tent and struck a second detainee. He said he regretted it afterward. Asked by the prosecutor why he did it, Spc. Bonilla said, “I felt pressured to do it, sir.”

Spc. Bonilla pleaded guilty last year to giving false statements to officials and assault consummated by battery, the Army said. He was sentenced to four months of confinement, suspended after 90 days, and his rank was reduced from sergeant.

Earlier, the military judge hearing Sgt. Drake’s case dismissed one of the most serious charges against him. The judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, dismissed a charge that Sgt. Drake caused “grievous bodily injury” when he hit a detainee in the head with a baseball bat.

Sgt. Drake’s civilian defense attorney, Michael Waddington, argued there was no evidence that the blow fractured the detainee’s skull as the government had asserted.

The dismissal of the charge reduced Sgt. Drake’s maximum punishment from 21½ years to 16½ years. He also could get a reduction in rank, a dishonorable discharge and total forfeiture of pay and allowance if convicted, the Army said.

The Laurel, Md., native also is charged with soliciting another soldier to strike a detainee. The charge relates to Spc. Bonilla assaulting the second detainee.

Sgt. Drake, a 23-year military veteran, is being tried by a panel of two Army officers and four enlisted members.

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