Platoon commander in Azaria case pressed over inconsistency in testimony
Lt. M. told the court he considered then-wounded terrorist to still be dangerous and consequently assigning a soldier to guard him, before the terrorist was shot dead by Azaria; he did not mention this to the IDF police in his initial questioning.
Lieutenant M., who earlier Monday testified in defense of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, was confronted during cross-examination with inconsistencies arising from the different testimonies that he gave the IDF Military Police's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the court. Azaria is on trial for manslaughter after shooting dead a wounded terrorist in Hebron.
Earlier in the day, Lt. M., who was a platoon commander at the time of the incident in March, claimed that the neutralized-but-still-alive terrorist was considered dangerous, which was why he appointed a soldier to guard him, but when answering prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Wiesman's questions, admitted to not mentioning this to the CID.
Prosecutor Weisman: "The things you brought up today, like the fact that you told the company commander about the threat of a bomb—you didn't mention in your CID testimony."
Lt. M: "Right. There's no instance of that in my questioning. I also didn't say anything about the briefing I gave the soldier who guarded the terrorist about the threat of a bomb."
The prosecutor attempted to find out why Lt. M. claimed that he feared a bomb may be strapped to the terrorist but still approached him, and even touched him.
Prosecutor Weisman: "Why did you turn over the terrorists with your foot? Does this mean that, until you received a warning from a civilian, you weren't worried about a bomb?"
Lt. M: "That's not accurate… the concerns began to materialize and increased."
Prosecutor Weisman: "You're endangering all of your soldiers if you assume there's a bomb in the area."
Lt. M: "You can claim I operated unprofessionally, not well enough. All of the soldiers knew, all of the forces were briefed about this."
Prosecutor Weisman: "Why didn't you move people away from the area and warn them about a bomb?"
Lt. M: "You can't control this. It's all a mess. All sloppy. You don't know who belongs there and who doesn't. It's not so simple to say 'you go there, and you can come in.' I apparently failed in my duties because there was no monitoring of who went into the area and who did not."
Prosecutor Weisman: "Why didn't you send away the civilian who's standing next to the terrorist and photographing him? Why didn't you tell him that you think there's an explosive device on him and that it's dangerous?"
Lt. M: "It's hard to distinguish who's a security or medical worker, and I—because of the weapon he was carrying—also recognized he was from the local civilian population's security contingency squad."
Prosecutor Weisman: "So he should be blown up by the bomb? Why didn't you send him away?"
Lt. M: "There's no answer for why. I just didn't. Mistakes are always made, and that's part of the mistakes. I'm not here to say I handled it in the best way."
Prosecutor Weisman: "There's a quote here by the company commander, who said he was not informed of the risk of bombs."
Lt. M: "I told him about this. If he claims I didn't tell him, it's a lie."
Prosecutor Weisman: "A. (another witness from the area of the incident) said you didn't tell him anything about the bomb. What is your response?"
Lt. M: "I recall telling him."
Prosecutor Weisman: "So A. is lying, as well?"
Lt. M: "That's what I remember."
Prosecutor Weisman: "In the moment of the shooting, you were pretty close to the attacker. Don't you think that contradicts your claim that he had a bomb on him? You, of all people, are standing next to him?"
Lt. M: "I didn't go for the terrorist, I went to update the company commander."
Prosecutor Weisman: "Why did you allow yourself and the company commander to stand close to the attacker?"
Lt. M: "In real time you don’t see things that way."
Prosecutor Weisman: "In real time you didn't think, at that point, about mortal danger. Because then you would have distanced the company commander and yourself from the terrorist."
Lt. M: "Correct. The fact that I wasn't thinking about mortal danger at that moment doesn’t mean it didn't exist."
At a certain point, the judge also asked to clarify the issue of Lt. M. updating the company commander about the danger of the terrorist having an explosive device on his person, saying, "We can see the company commander speaking and giving instructions and we don't see you telling him anything. Why?"
Lt. M: "Correct. I remember me speaking with the company commander, explaining to him, and giving him all of the details. I don't remember at which stage that was."
Judge: "The company commander told us that he received the information about the scene from the other platoon commander on the scene."
Lt. M: "I can't chronologically point out the moment. I am certain I told the company commander."
In his previous testimony, on behalf of the defense, Lt. M. stated that he had told the soldier guarding the terrorist that he was allowed to open fire if the terrorist made any sudden moves or inserted his hands into his clothes. He stated that the seriously wounded terrorist still posed a danger, and so he placed a soldier to guard him.