NORFOLK -- Two insurgent fighters were dead, and a third had been taken into the custody of Iraqi security officers. After a showdown in the Iraqi desert some three years ago, Virginia Beach-based Navy bomb-disposal experts were called to the scene to probe the bodies for explosives.
Exactly what happened next -- and why -- is unclear. The dust-up ended with Iraqi soldiers gunning down the third insurgent after he managed to get his hands on a firearm.
Military prosecutors say Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Harvey C. Fisher is responsible.
The decorated war veteran was in a military courtroom at Norfolk Naval Station on Friday, charged with dereliction of duty and reckless conduct "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."
The charging documents allege that Fisher "willfully caused the use of an Iraqi detainee to perform dangerous labor." They also allege that Fisher suggested and permitted the detained insurgent to move the bodies to search them for bombs; and that Fisher suggested and permitted the detainee be allowed "into an area where there were weapons available for him to use."
Defense attorneys dispute that. They say Fisher, a 29-year-old explosive ordnance disposal specialist based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, had no responsibility for what happened May 4, 2009, near Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.
Fisher did not enter a plea at Friday's arraignment. He asked to be tried by a jury that includes fellow enlisted sailors. A court-martial is scheduled to begin Sept. 7.
Fisher was a petty officer 1st class assigned to Explosive Ordnance Mobile Unit 6 at the time of the incident. He still works with the unit and has not been assigned to administrative duties as a result of the charges.
The court documents include few details about the day in question, and Marine Capt. Keaton Harrell, the lead prosecutor, declined to comment.
Fisher's civilian attorney, Greg McCormack, elaborated on the incident after the hearing.
McCormack said the third insurgent was in the custody of Iraqi military officers. For some reason, he said, the detainee was allowed to go down into a gully where the bodies lay, and there he picked up a firearm. The Iraqi soldiers shot him dead.
"The question is: How and why did he get down there?" McCormack said. "Our position is that my client did not conduct any misconduct."
Fisher wasn't responsible for the detainee, said McCormack, who filed a motion asking the government to track down two Iraqi army eyewitnesses to confirm Fisher's story.
Cmdr. Colleen Glaser-Allen, the judge, told prosecutors to take up McCormack's request with the Iraqi government but cautioned him against counting on the officers' testimony. Even if officials are able to locate the Iraqi officers, Glaser-Allen said, the court can't compel them to testify.
McCormack anticipates calling numerous character witnesses during the trial, he said, many of them from within the close-knit community of explosive ordnance disposal specialists.
Considered one of the most dangerous jobs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, EODs are trained to find and dismantle bombs before they go off. Fisher is well-respected in the EOD community, McCormack said.
Fisher appeared in court in dress whites, wearing a Bronze Star he received in 2008 for his work clearing bombs in Iraq. He joined the Navy in July 2001 and has been promoted twice since the 2009 incident.
The arraignment was scheduled earlier this year but was delayed to allow Fisher to participate in a "career-enhancing operation," according to the judge.