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2 G.I.'s Guilty in Iraqi Co-Worker's Death
The New York Times
Published: January 23, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 22 - Two American soldiers were convicted Saturday on court-martial charges related to the shooting death of a 28-year-old Iraqi woman who was working with them as an interpreter.

The soldiers, Specialist Charley Hooser and Specialist Rami Dajani, were both convicted of making a false official statement to investigators after the killing of the translator, Luma, a mother of one daughter. The court requested that the victim's last name be withheld for her family's safety.

Specialist Hooser was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter, while Specialist Dajani was convicted of accessory after the fact. Specialist Dajani had faced an involuntary manslaughter charge at the beginning of his trial but it was dismissed by prosecutors.

Specialist Hooser was sentenced to three years in jail, reduction to the lowest enlisted Army rank, and forfeiture of pay to his wife after six months. He also received a bad conduct discharge. Specialist Dajani received 18 months in jail, reduction to the lowest rank, and a bad conduct discharge.

The incident happened at an American base in Baghdad on Nov. 24, 2004, when Luma, who had been employed by The Washington Post and then later worked for the American military during interrogations of detainees, and the two men were in a room where they worked.

The soldiers testified that the three had been teasing one another about shooting someone. "We were joking around," Specialist Hooser told the court.

Specialist Dajani then handed him a 9-millimeter pistol from a cabinet in the room, Specialist Hooser testified. He said he thought he had heard Specialist Dajani clear the weapon of ammunition, so he did not check it.

He said he then pointed the pistol at Luma's head, thinking it was empty, and pulled the trigger, killing her. "She was slumped over," he said.

Specialist Hooser told the court that he was sorry and agreed that he had acted negligently. "I should not have been playing with a firearm," he said. He wiped away tears several times as witnesses, mostly soldiers he went on patrol with, spoke of his excellence as a soldier.

Specialist Dajani later broke down in court as he described Luma slumped over, and then her being loaded into a medical Humvee.

The two men lied to investigators for 15 days, saying that Luma had shot herself. "I told him to blame me," said Specialist Dajani, saying that he had encouraged Specialist Hooser to lie about the death.

Meanwhile, a militant group said Saturday that it had freed eight Chinese laborers whom it had recently abducted and who had been shown on a videotape released on Tuesday. China's state news agency confirmed that they had been freed.

In a videotape shown on Al Arabiya, a satellite network based in Dubai, a spokesman for the militant group, the Movement of the Islamic Resistance Numan Brigades, said it had agreed to release the hostages after China prohibited its citizens from traveling to Iraq.

The hostages were turned over to the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of prominent Sunni clerics.

Organizers of the effort to register Iraqi expatriates to vote abroad in the coming elections announced on Saturday that the deadline was being extended by two days, to Tuesday.

No reason was given for the extension, but registrations were coming in much lower than expected. At one point, officials had thought that as many as one million expatriates in 14 different countries would be eligible to vote. But by late Friday, only 131,635 had registered.

In Baghdad, Falah Hassan al-Naqib, the Iraqi interior minister, announced the closing of the Baghdad airport Jan. 29 and 30 and a curfew extension in some cities as security provisions for the Jan. 30 vote.

He also said that no arrest warrant had been issued for Ahmad Chalabi , the former exile and one-time Pentagon darling. On Friday, Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan said on Al Jazeera, an Arab network, that the Iraqi government intended to arrest Mr. Chalabi, a candidate on a rival slate, and give him to Interpol to face corruption charges. Mr. Chalabi had accused Mr. Shalaan of illegally spiriting millions of dollars out of Iraq.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London for this article.