Charges Against IDF Soldier Who Shot Subdued Palestinian Downgraded to Manslaughter

IDF prosecutor says video shows ‘cool-headed’ soldier shooting Palestinian with no threat to his life as army seeks to extend detention; soldier was originally expected to face murder charges.

The IDF soldier who shot the wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron being escorted to court on the day after the incident, on March 25, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

The Israel Defense Forces soldier suspected of killing a wounded Palestinian attacker as he lay on the ground will face manslaughter charges, a military tribunal ruled Thursday, requesting that the soldier remain under arrest until the investigation is completed.

Lt. Col. Aduram Riegler, the IDF’s attorney for operational affairs, said during the tribunal that “the soldier is suspected of shooting deliberately and without need from an operational standpoint while the terrorist lay on the ground after the same terrorist had previously been shot by IDF soldiers.”

Riegler said that one cannot see any life-threatening signs or need for self-defense from the videotape. “The suspect doesn’t throw the helmet down and charge at the terrorist, he doesn’t shout. He cocks his gun while in a standing position, in what appears to be cool-headed behavior.”

During the investigation, the soldier’s battalion commander testified that he did not believe that the soldier was telling the truth when he said he felt threatened in explaining why he opened fire, and was therefore immediately suspended from combat duty.

The prosecution said during the tribunal that they want to extend the soldier’s detention for another week, effectively asking that the soldier remain under arrest until certain parts of the investigation have been completed, on grounds of risks posed by the suspect. 

“The evidence points in our view to a serious suspicion regarding the suspect. The type of suspicion from which there is military risk, and that requires an investigation necessitating the suspect’s extended remand,” Riegler said, adding that there were significant developments the further provide evidentiary basis for the suspicion.

“At a time when the terrorist lay on the ground for a number of minutes, you could see more than a small number of commanders, soldiers and civilians treating the wounded soldier at the scene. You can also identify the suspect arriving at the scene and helping to treat the wounded soldier,” he continued.

“At a certain stage after the wounded soldier was evacuated, a few minutes after the terrorist has been laying on the ground, you can see the suspect walk over and pick up something, apparently his helmet, and from there he starts to walk in the general direction of the terrorist lying on the ground,” Riegler said.

“At this stage,” he continued, “without anything special happening, and without any sign of any panic, or other danger signs in the area or from the suspect himself, you can see the suspect stop next to a soldier, it looks like he hands him something or other that he is holding, apparently the helmet, he cocks his gun and makes some sort of gesture, apparently to people standing nearby to move away, and in cold blood shoots deliberately from close range at the terrorist’s head.”

Riegler said, “The evidentiary basis is reinforced also by statements made by the suspect immediately after the shooting, as heard by a few soldiers and an officer at the scene. In response to a question by the company commander, who was there and stood near the terrorist and asked the suspect why he opened fire, the suspect replied: ‘The terrorist was alive, he deserved to die.’”

Hint at confession

Riegler said such remarks are hint at a confession and also show the motives behind the shooting. “These quotes contain no claims of a life threatening situation, and show the suspect’s motives and his mood in real time. As we know the suspect’s version (of a life-threatening situation) developed at a later stage.”

MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint Arab List) said: “This is a soldier who is a murderer, who perpetrated a criminal act in plain view in the video. And the decision influenced by the remarks of the prime minister, who asked to take into account the soldier’s family, shows again how such cases must be investigated by an international tribunal as war crimes.

“We weren’t surprised and didn’t’ hang any hopes on the occupation army, which apparently is judging its own soldiers,” Tibi continued. “The soldiers and officers must be investigated and punished as well as the medical teams that stood there and didn’t lift a finger, neither before the murder nor afterwards. We wouldn’t be surprised if the charge winds up being downgraded to a lighter offense.”

The prosecutor said the autopsy is expected to take place on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Riegler had said prosecutors were trying to work out the specific charges. He suggested murder, manslaughter and causing death through negligence were among the possibilities under consideration. Investigators have taken testimony from soldiers and officers who were at the scene of the attack of a week ago, among them a soldier who was stabbed and wounded by one of the terrorists.

The military judge, Lt. Col. Ronen Shor, ordered the soldier released from jail and instead kept under open arrest at his base, the headquarters of the Kfir Brigade. But since the military prosecution said it intends to appeal this decision, the judge agreed to stay its execution until Friday.

Shor’s ruling also stated that while under open arrest, the soldier may not make contact with witnesses in the case or carry a gun. 

“The suspect wasn’t defined as a command element in the field, and no one disputes that he acted of his own initiative,” Shor wrote. “Therefore, there’s a reasonable suspicion that he exceeded his authority and committed the shooting illegally.”

The soldier’s attorney, Ilan Katz, said after the hearing, “The judge has already gotten the impression that the factual basis doesn’t accord even with the suspicion that appears on the form requesting an extension of [the soldier’s] arrest – that is, the suspicion of manslaughter. His honor the judge’s decision, which was given despite various regrettable statements, should be respected.”