Marine convicted of abuse stays in Corps
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO – A Marine sergeant convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners was sentenced Friday to 60 days hard labor and reduced in rank to private but allowed to remain in the Marine Corps.
The court martial jury at Camp Pendleton that convicted Sgt. Gary Pittman, 40, a reservist from New York, meted out the sentencing after a hearing in which Pittman tearily asked for leniency and expressed his love for the Marine Corps. He could have been sentenced to six months in custody and given a bad-conduct discharge.
Maj. Leon Francis, the lead prosecutor, asked the nine officers serving on the jury to give Pittman the maximum punishment as an example to other troops in Iraq that brutalizing prisoners is not acceptable.
“The accused doesn’t get it,” Francis told jurors. “He does not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. …The Marine Corps is supposed to be the good guys, not the bad guys.”
A sentence of hard labor means Pittman will be given extra duty each night after he completes his assigned job. When not working or exercising, he will be confined to the barracks.
Pittman also is likely to lose his civilian job as a guard at a federal prison in Brooklyn. Officials said federal rules do not permit guards who have been convicted of a civilian or military offense such as assault.
Pittman was convicted of assaulting prisoners at the Camp Whitehorse detention facility near Nasiriyah, Iraq, and for dereliction of duty for allowing lower-ranking Marines to abuse them and for not calling for Navy medics to treat injured prisoners.
Pittman’s brother, Army Maj. Morrant Pittman, asked jurors to remember his brother’s nearly two decades of military service in the Army and Marine Corps. Pittman served in the Army National Guard, then with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and as an active duty Marine during the Persian Gulf War.
“Sometimes when you’re in a hostile environment and you’re dealing with dangerous people, you make mistakes,” said defense attorney Capt. Anders Folk.
Although he was convicted of hitting and kneeing several other prisoners, Pittman was acquitted of assaulting of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, 52, a former hit man for Saddam Hussein who had been captured as a suspect in the ambush on an Army convoy that left 11 soldiers dead and Pfc. Jessica Lynch a prisoner.
Hatab died two days after being captured, which led Maj. Gen. James Mattis, then-commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, to order an investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Camp Whitehorse. Pittman’s civilian defense attorney, John Tranberg, told reporters that the government was over-zealous in the investigation in an effort to file charges.
Two officers from the same reserve battalion, which is based in Garden City, N.Y., face charges for allegedly lax leadership that allowed enlisted Marines to assault prisoners.
Maj. Clarke Paulus, whose court martial begins next week, has been charged with giving the order that might have resulted in Hatab receiving a fatal injury. Paulus allegedly ordered Marines to drag the semi-conscious Hatab by the neck to an outside holding area; an autopsy suggested that Hatab suffocated from a broken bone in his neck.
Pittman’s conviction came a week after a Marine sergeant from Camp Lejeune, N.C., pleaded guilty to attempted cruelty, maltreatment of prisoners and dereliction of duty in an incident in which an Iraqi prisoner intentionally was shocked with electricity.
A court martial in Iraq sentenced Sgt. Matthew K. Travis to 15 months in confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge; three other Marines also have been convicted of charges stemming from the April incident at a makeshift Marine camp in the Iraqi desert.