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Accuser of ´Confirmed Kill´ IDF Captain: We Lied

Captain "R." is on his way to aquittal following a major breakthrough in his trial. He is the IDF commander accused of "confirming the death" of an Arab girl suspected of being a terrorist.
First Publish: 2/8/2005, 1:29 PM / Last Update: 2/7/2005, 7:53 PM

The prosecution's key witness admitted Sunday to having lied during the investigation.

The incident occurred last October. Two soldiers in R.'s unit had testified that he carried out a point-blank "confirmed-kill" of 13-year-old Arab girl Iman al-Hams, who had entered a closed military zone adjacent to the Girit IDF position. R. admitted that he and his soldiers had opened fire at a suspicious figure, based on intelligence information and the fact that the figure threw a bag toward them. But he denied confirming the kill at close range.

Already three weeks ago, one of the accusing soldiers contradicted previous testimony he had given. Now, Lieutenant S., who had been on lookout duty during the incident and subsequently accused R. of shooting the girl at close range admitted during his cross-examination by defense attorney Elad Eisenberg, that he and his fellow soldiers had been lying all along.

The judge, Lt.-Col. Aharon Mishnayot, ordered the release of R., who has been confined to his army base, as well as the return of his weapons and his reinstatement in the Givati Brigade. "It is an inarguable fact that the dramatic development with regard to the testimony of Lieutenant S., who admitted flat-out that he did not tell the truth during the military police investigation, significantly undermines at least the value of [his] testimony," Mishnayot said.

Though the story was originally reported widely in the world press, including headlines such as "IDF Captain Shoots 13-year-old 20 Times," the latest developments have been virtually ignored. The admission of false evidence against the commander belies the hundreds of headlines around the world blaring yet another Israeli "atrocity."

Already in October, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon told the cabinet that the girl had been dispatched by terrorists as a decoy in order to draw out soldiers and turn them into targets for terrorist snipers. Yaalon also explained that the girl was in a closed military area, and that she threw a bag at the soldiers - a suspicious move under the circumstances, even though the bag was later found to contain only schoolbooks and no explosives.

Shortly after the incident, one of the soldiers involved explained the tension under which he and his colleagues were operating:
"For several weeks now, we have been in a state of high alert due to warnings of infiltration attempts. Only two weeks ago, three of our friends were killed in Morag. With death suddenly arriving at our doorstep, we were extremely tense. We knew the terrorists were coming, we just weren't sure when. On the day in question, we spotted a child just over 100 meters from our post. At first we thought she was a terrorist, not a girl; we were sure the moment had arrived, that which we had been talking about all along. We immediately knew what we had to do: to open fire. We all opened fire.

"After we fired, the platoon commander went out to make sure she was dead. He fired only two bullets at her from a relatively distant point, fearing she was wearing a bomb belt. He then headed back to the outpost, but suddenly turned around and fired a long burst. I saw where the body was, and in which direction he fired. It wasn't even close [to the girl]...

"The soldiers who turned to the media tried to frame him because he was a tough commander and often handed out harsh punishments. The veteran soldiers were angry with him. I also was tempted to say he had done it, but that's not the way. It would be a despicable thing to do," the soldier said.

A second soldier in the platoon also said at the time that the accusing soldiers had ulterior motives.

In the trial, Attorney Eisenberg asked S. whether it was accurate that following R.'s suspension, S. had bragged to his fellow soldiers, saying, "We managed to get rid of the company commander."

S. answered: "Not exactly. I said it humorously. Most of the soldiers in the company didn't care about the girl who was killed. Many people did it in order... to get rid of the company commander."

Eisenberg said: "Did what?"

S. answered: "Lied during the investigations."

Eisenberg then accused S. of lying to investigators when he told them that he saw R. confirm the kill by firing two individual bullets, followed by a burst of fire toward the girl.

Repeating the question of whether or not he told the truth, S. said his words were not "intentionally" false, then argued that they were not meant "maliciously" and finally admitted: "I didn't exactly lie ... I said an untruth."

Following the development, the defense requested that the prosecution withdraw the indictment altogether, but the request has been declined so far.

R. was in good spirits upon his release. "I have missed my job and my unit, and am happy that in the end justice is being brought to light - what you saw today speaks for itself."

The story was originally reported by Israel Radio defense affairs correspondent Carmella Menashe. Menashe, famous for her exclusive stories exposing misconduct within the IDF, noted at the time that her source- who later became the lead witness who now admits to lying about the incident - had called her many times previously complaining that he did not like his commander but that his complaints were not substantive enough to report on or affect the Captain's removal.

S., who is the most veteran member of his company, previously admitted that he had personal enmity toward R. over R.'s active campaign to increase discipline in the company since he assumed command and his quest to promote equality between newer and more veteran soldiers.