The Jaffa Military Court on Monday held a hearing in the case of a soldier charged with killing a comrade in his unit about three and a half months ago after discharging a bullet.
On Wednesday, the court will decide whether to accept a plea deal reached between the sides, which will see Sergeant N. serve a year and a half in prison for killing Duvdevan soldier Shachar Strug.
During the hearing, the soldier relayed a message to Strug's family and burst into tears. "It's important for me to talk to them and say that I'm sorry," he said. "Shachar and I were best friends. He was not just a comrade, but a friend for life. What hurts the most is that no matter what I do, I will never be able to heal their pain. I just want to tell them I'm sorry and I love them. I hope that in the future they will be able to forgive me, if possible."
The soldier's defense attorneys said that an investigation committee appointed after the incident had found serious evidence against the unit's conduct. "Unfortunately, the committee's findings were unequivocal and included harsh criticism against the unit's commanders," one of the attorneys said.
"Today the legal part in the painful case of the late Shachar Strug's death has ended. Sergeant N. chose to be bound by a plea bargain in taking responsibility for the incident and in order to spare all those involved the expected pain in managing the case. The plea bargain reflects the circumstances of the incident, the unit's failure to implement safety procedures, N.'s contribution to the unit, his sincere regret and the implications of the incident on the rest of his life.
"The defense team, N. and his family wish to thank the Strug family for its noble demeanor throughout this process, including their consent for the plea deal. We would like to take this opportunity to express again our deepest condolences. We hope the court will choose to adopt the agreement reached by the parties."
In his initial statement, Sergeant N. told investigators that "it was accident, not gunplay. We practiced drawing a gun in a room on-base, as is common in the unit. He's my best friend and I didn't know it was loaded."
The IDF committee's report on incident revealed the culture of gunplay in the elite unit, which ended in tragedy this time. According to the report, Sergeant N. confessed to his commanders immediately after the shooting: "What have I done? I killed my friend, I ruined my life. We had a gun-draw battle."
Because of Sergeant N's combat service and his impeccable past behavior, he received a relatively light sentence. However, the IDF investigation committee that examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Sgt. Strug painted a very disturbing picture of gunplay at the elite unit, which led to a series of severe punishments following the affair, including the dismissal of a company commander and a platoon commander, and the termination of the brigade commander's appointment.
According to the military investigation, an unreported culture of gun-play existed in the unit before the March 20 incident. On the day of the incident, at 7:47 pm, Shachar Strug managed to send his girlfriend one last text message: "I'm in the room."
Five minutes later, in front of one of the crew members, Strug "demonstrated the ability to cock a gun on his leg three times. The entire team present at the place failed to pay attention or to say anything." Two minutes later the shooting soldier, Sergeant N., entered the room and the two "drew weapons at each other, Sergeant N. likely responding instinctively without thinking about the state of his weapon."
According to the report, the defendant's gun was loaded without a security rod and, at 7:52 pm a shot was fired. "F***, what have I done? What have I done?" Sergeant N. shouted after the shooting. Paramedics immediately arrived at the scene and began evacuating the soldier to the Hadassah Medical Center.
The committee determined that "illegal use of a weapon is a unitary phenomenon as part of a personal training culture, and the immediate response of Sergeant N. to St. Strug's provocation attests to the fact that this is not an isolated incident."
The committee members noted that the lack of commanders' control over prevention of weapon negligence, although the weakneed had been detected and despite three previous incidents of firearm discharge, contributed to the event.
As for the late Strug, it was stated that "the team sergeant noticed that weapon exercises were being carried out illegally, but he turned a blind eye. Members of the team saw Strug playing with weapons a few minutes before his death, but they did not stop him nor call his commanders". The committee concluded the report by stating that "all those involved in the incident did not carry out their personal duty to prevent incidents from happening under their supervision and all safety circles were breached."
A senior officer defined the committee's conclusions as the chronicle of a disaster foretold, saying that "there has been a series of failures over time in the entire chain of command. This was routine in the unit, unfortunately."