Why Was Sergeant Still in the Army?

Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, May 4

Two years ago, just days before his unit was set to join the invasion of Iraq, an Army sergeant threw grenades into the tents of fellow soldiers and shot those able to flee the flames. When he was done, two soldiers lay dead, 14 wounded.

The sergeant, Hasan Akbar, a 34-year-old Muslim convert who grew up in south-central Los Angeles, was captured, not killed, that night in Kuwait, and returned to the United States to become the first American since the Vietnam War to be prosecuted for killing a fellow soldier during wartime.

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Akbar’s diary, one he kept by computer for 13 years, spoke loudest:

In 1992, he wrote: “I made a promise that if I am not able to achieve success because of some Caucasians, I will kill as many of them as possible.”

In a 1996 entry, he wrote: “Destroying America is my greatest goal.”

In 1998, he joined the Army.

And in 2003, in the week before he went to Kuwait, he wrote: “As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.” (Prosecutors say he was referring to fellow soldiers).

Akbar’s former platoon leader testified during his trial that Akbar was unfit for duty. He got fired from a leadership position just before the invasion. “He really was kind of fired and forgotten,” Capt David Storch told a jury.

So which question is the right one: How could the U.S. military send an obviously mentally ill man who abhorred fellow soldiers and walked around talking to himself to Kuwait with those soldiers?

Or: How could officers be so fed up with Akbar’s poor performance that they removed from him a leadership position, but didn’t relieve him of duty because it was “too complex” at a chaotic time?

Or: Why isn’t the case of a domestic terrorist who infiltrated the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and later attacked his own unit at the top of the news?

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