Four seconds in Afghanistan: Was it combat, or a crime?
A seasoned Army sergeant makes a split-second decision to stop a possible bombing. Now he's stunned to be charged with negligent homicide.
Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor's life collapsed in four interminable seconds in a dusty field in central Afghanistan.
His convoy was reeling from a roadside bomb, his fellow soldiers were engaged in combat with insurgents — and a mysterious black car had just screeched to a stop in the middle of the firefight. Some nine minutes later, a black door opens.
Second 1: A figure dressed in dark, bulky clothing emerges.
Second 2: The figure begins walking toward the trunk.
Second 3: Taylor, with five wounded comrades behind him, sees a thin trigger wire seeming to snake directly toward the black car. Could there be a second bomb in the trunk?
Second 4: Taylor squeezes the trigger on his M-4 carbine. The figure crumples to the dirt.
The figure was not an insurgent, but Dr. Aqilah Hikmat, a 49-year-old mother of four who headed the obstetrics department at the nearby Ghazni provincial hospital. Also dead inside the car were Hikmat's 18-year-old son and her 16-year-old niece. Hikmat's husband, in the front seat, was wounded.
Army prosecutors say Hikmat's killing in July 2011 was not just a casualty of combat, but a crime. Charged with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, Taylor will face a hearing June 19 before a U.S. military judge in Germany to determine whether the case goes to a full court-martial, with the possibility of three years in prison.