An Army paratrooper will not face murder charges in the shooting of two young Iraqis seven years ago, but still could go to jail for his alleged attempts to quash investigations into the killings.
The Army announced Tuesday that it had dropped two murder charges filed against Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera, marking the second time the military has declined to prosecute the soldier in connection with a blown reconnaissance mission in Iraq’s Diyala Province.
He still is to be prosecuted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on charges he tried to obstruct an Army investigation and threatened a journalist’s wife when The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper began looking into the killings.
Barbera faces up to eight years in confinement if convicted of the two charges.
His attorney, David Coombs, did not respond to a phone message or email Tuesday.
Barbera was serving with a cavalry squadron from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division when he allegedly shot the two boys. Five soldiers who were with Barbera that day said in testimony at a pretrial hearing in April that they did not perceive the boys to be a threat.
The soldiers were in a hidden position observing what was believed to be a hostile village. Barbera’s shots exposed the team and compelled them to flee. He gave an order to shoot a third Iraqi during the retreat.
The shootings were not reported to the unit’s chain of command and Barbera’s cavalry squadron did not investigate them while it was in country, according to testimony at the pretrial hearing.
Barbera came under scrutiny for the shootings in 2009 and the Army declined to prosecute him.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published a special report on the killings in 2012 based on interviews with Iraqi villagers and soldiers from Barbera’s unit who remained troubled by the boys’ deaths.
Villagers who knew the boys described them as deaf and mute. Some of Barbera’s teammates believed insurgents carried out attacks on the unit in retaliation for the boys’ deaths.
Barbera allegedly threatened the wife of Tribune-Review journalist Carl Prine when the reporter began looking into the killings, according to testimony from Prine and his wife at the pretrial hearing.
The Army announced its latest criminal investigation into Barbera in November 2013, 11 months after Prine’s report was published.
JBLM is hosting Barbera’s court-martial because it has the largest courtroom on the West Coast and Barbera was serving in an Alaska-based unit when the Army chose to prosecute him.
I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza chose to drop the murder charges after reviewing a new report from Barbera’s pretrial hearing. That report has not been released to the press.