BY James Gordon Meek
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU WASHINGTON - Army brass in Iraq whitewashed an incident of a soldier killed by his own lieutenant by blaming the dead hero, stonewalling his family and promoting his killer, the Daily News has learned.
The friendly-fire victim, Pfc. David Sharrett, 27, of Oakton, Va., was "misidentified" by 1stLt. Timothy Hanson as an enemy gunman during a botched night raid Jan. 16, 2008, against an Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold north of Baghdad, the Army belatedly acknowledged.
Sharrett bled to death as his buddies searched frantically for him for 25 minutes after the firefight ended.
For four months after the Army knew the truth, it still insisted to Sharrett's father that he was killed by enemy fire - and gave only atemporary wrist slap to Hanson under pressure from the families of Sharrett and two other G.I.s killed in the clash.
After The News uncovered new video evidence and raised questions, a 101st Airborne Division general said the probe into Sharrett's death may reopen.
"The final decisions and dispositions have yet to be made," Brig. Gen. Steve Townsend said.
Sharrett's family claims top officers in the legendary "Screaming Eagles" division initially - and angrily - denied friendly fire was involved, claiming for months that insurgents killed Sharrett when his eight-man team tried to capture six suspects in a rural thicket.
The unit's ex-commander, Lt. Col. Robert McCarthy, insists he'sbeen "nothing but open" with the families of Sharrett and two buddies killed by enemy fire that night, Cpl. John Sigsbee of upstate Waterville and Pfc. Danny Kimme of Fisher, Ill. The families of those two men blame officers for other fatal errors.
McCarthy told The News last week he knew within days of Sharrett's death that a soldier had killed him, but he was unable to prove his father was notified before May - three months after the Army finished its flawed probe. A ballistics test in February matched Hanson's M-4 rifle to the round removed from Sharrett."The Army lied to us," the slain hero's dad, also named David, charged Tuesday. "We felt betrayed the way our son was betrayed."
Three days after the friendly-fire probe began on Jan. 24, McCarthy e-mailed the elder Sharrett, claiming it was "a fierce grenade and small-arms fight that resulted in the deaths."
The Army's probe eventually faulted Hanson, 30, of Janesville, Wis., for a series of blunders, including flying away in a chopper and "leaving no leader from the team on the ground" to find and help his soldiers. But his commanders didn't punish him.
"I don't view it as colossal failures," McCarthy said. "I think he made some mistakes." He called Hanson a "great and steady" leader. Hanson, since promoted to captain and serving as a brigade staff officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., would not return calls for comment.
Nine months after Sharrett was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, McCarthy's boss, Col. Michael McBride, caved to pressure from the families with a temporary written reprimand for Hanson - which was removed from his file when he left Iraq days later.
This year, McBride and McCarthy reversed course again and recommended a tougher reprimand in Hanson's permanent record. But Gen. Townsend ordered a review by uninvolved officers.
The families want career-ending punishment for Hanson, McCarthy and McBride.
"McCarthy should be relieved of duty and Hanson should be court-martialed," said Douglas Kimme, an Illinois cop.
Officers in the initial probe blamed Sharrett for his own death.
They said Sharrett and the others didn't switch on infrared lights, which mark them as "friendly," to other troops wearing night-vision goggles. They said Hanson shot Sharrett "mistakenly believing he was an enemy."
After the shooting, "Sharrett's whereabouts were initially unknown" because his light "was not on," an investigating officer wrote.
But the report ignored Hanson's own admission, backed up by one of his soldiers, that he did not give his men time to turn the beacons on, or order them to do so. That was a "leader failure," McCarthy said.