An Army paratrooper’s alleged attempts to stymie a newspaper’s investigation into the fatal shooting of two Iraqi boys seven years ago is expected to plead guilty Thursday to threatening a journalist’s wife, according to his Twitter feed.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera is due in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to be arraigned on a charge of communicating a threat. He announced last week that he would plead guilty to the charge.
The Army in September dropped more serious charges it had filed against him, including two counts of murder that could have sent Barbera to jail for life.
Barbera in March 2007 led a reconnaissance mission to observe a hostile village in Iraq’s Diyala Province. He blew his team’s cover when he shot two young Iraqi cattle herders, which forced the soldiers to flee from their hidden position and led to the shooting of another Iraqi, according to testimony at a pretrial hearing in April.
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The Army investigated the incident in 2009 and elected not to prosecute Barbera, who was serving in a cavalry squadron belonging to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Some of his teammates remained troubled by the incident and spoke about the killings to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine, who also is an Iraq veteran. The newspaper’s report in late 2012 prompted the Army to reopen the case.
A man called Prine’s home when the reporter began his work and told Prine’s wife that he should quit the story “for your personal safety,” according to her testimony at the pretrial hearing. The call later was connected to Barbera’s personal cell phone.
Prine ultimately traveled to Iraq and met with the victims’ family members, who identied the boys as deaf teenage brothers.
None of the five members of Barbera’s Iraq reconnaissance team who testified at the pretrial hearing perceived the Iraqi cattle herders as a threat until Barbera exposed the unit’s position by firing a weapon, according to their testimony.
Barbera was serving in an Alaska-based unit at the time of the newspaper investigation. They Army moved him to Lewis-McChord for his court-martial.
Barbera has maintained his innocence on the website www.suppportmichael.org, where he refers to the herders as “enemy combatants.”
Sources who have received recent briefings on the case from the Army said an Army investigator had recommended prosecuting Barbera on the murder charges after his pretrial hearing. JBLM senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza chose to move forward with the less serious charges.