Area soldier's future in limbo

Area soldier's future in limbo

January 29th, 2009 by Lauren Gregory in Local Regional News

In the eyes of the U.S. Army, Capt. Roger Hill is a poor leader with a trigger-happy finger whose recklessness led to the abuse of at least a dozen detainees in Afghanistan last year.

But those who know Capt. Hill personally say he simply fell on the sword of ultra-strict, post-Abu Ghraib torture policy and still deserves to come home to Bridgeport, Ala., with honor.

The charges against him - which indicate he violated the Geneva Convention by faking an execution to obtain confessions from accused spies last April - "were jacked up," said Neal Puckett, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represents Capt. Hill and also worked on the widely publicized prisoner abuse case at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

IF YOU GO

What: "Coming Home to Honor" prayer meeting for Army Capt. Roger Hill

When: Friday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. CST

Where: Bridgeport Middle School, 620 Jacobs Ave., Bridgeport, Ala.

That scandal, which surfaced in 2004, "caused an oversensitivity from the top down," Mr. Puckett said. "I think there's been an unnecessary persecution of officers trying to do their job, for fear that something's going to be compared to Abu Ghraib."

Army officials both in Afghanistan and at Fort Campbell, Ky. - where Capt. Hill was based with the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment - declined to comment on his case or on the military's stance on detainee mistreatment in general.

Marine Capt. Scott Miller, a spokesman for Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, issued a news release saying only that Capt. Hill and his first sergeant, Tommy Scott, formally were charged with detainee mistreatment - a violation of the Geneva Convention - and dereliction of duty to report detainee mistreatment.

The two men took part in an Article 32 hearing, which Mr. Puckett said is similar to a magistrate hearing in civilian court to determine if enough evidence is present to move a case forward.

The case was not forwarded to court-martial but handled administratively. Fort Campbell spokeswoman Kelly Tyler said Army protocol prevents the discussion of any administrative matters.

According to Mr. Puckett, Capt. Hill pleaded guilty to improperly discharging his weapon and failing to take proper command of the situation. He also agreed to resign from the military.

"Everybody understands that lines were crossed that shouldn't have been crossed," said Mr. Puckett, who said that, at the time, Capt. Hill had only 90 men to protect and control a "hot spot" of insurgent activity in Afghanistan's Wardak province, which is about the size of Connecticut.

When Capt. Hill learned some Afghans on his base may have been spying for the enemy, he detained a group of them in hopes of obtaining a confession, Mr. Puckett said. Because he had a 96-hour timeframe in which to accomplish that goal, Mr. Puckett said, Capt. Hill became desperate. The detainees were blindfolded, he said, and Capt. Hill fired his pistol into the ground in hopes of scaring the men into thinking their own lives were in danger.

The captain's family and friends believe he was acting in a heroic manner, hoping to save the lives of his men by eliminating any information leaks, said Becky McCoy, a longtime family friend who taught Capt. Hill science at Bridgeport Middle School several years ago.

Seeing him discharged is "just an injustice," Ms. McCoy said. "We can't continue to put our young men in these situations and then say, 'You can't fight.'"

Ms. McCoy said a prayer vigil and collection for Capt. Hill and his family is taking place Friday evening at his former middle school.

Capt. Hill has been at Fort Campbell for the past couple of weeks awaiting the outcome of a decision on his discharge status, Mr. Puckett said.


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