By James DeWeese
Marine Reserve Sgt. Gary Pittman, 40, who neighbors described as quiet and polite, was assigned to the Garden City, L.I.-based 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines Reserve Division on duty in Iraq when he allegedly kicked and punched 52-year-old Nagem Sadoon Hatab, according to military records.Hatab, reportedly a Baath Party loyalist with ties to the ambush that snared Army Private Jessica Lynch, was discovered dead on June 6, 2003 and covered in his own waste at the Camp Whitehorse detention facility outside An Nasiriyah, Iraq, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. A medical exam determined that Hatab had several broken ribs and a crushed windpipe, injuries that prosecutors charge were caused by Pittman and led to Hatab's death, the paper reported. The Camp Pendleton, Calif. proceedings against Pittman, who has more than nine military medals and commendations, are believed to be the first court-martial against a soldier in connection with the death of an Iraqi prisoner.Pittman faces two counts each of assault and dereliction of duty in connection with the death of the Iraqi prisoner, said Lt. Joshua Truesdale, a public affairs officer at Camp Pendleton. If convicted, Pittman could get up to three years in a military prison, a bad conduct discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.Neighbors at the Colden Street apartment Pittman shared until recently with his wife and young daughter were shocked at the charges.”If the prisoner died, I don't think he killed him,” tenants' association President Mary Lee Patterson said of Pittman, who according to military records has been a reservist since 1990. “He is a gentleman.”Patterson described Pittman as a devoted family man who doted over his daughter — believed to be about 5 years old — often taking her to Kissena Corridor Park across from the seven-story, brick apartment building.Pittman and his wife apparently divorced after he returned from duty in Iraq, but Patterson said she had no idea.”I didn't know they was divorced because there was no problems over there with them,” Patterson said of the family. “They didn't act like they was divorced. He'd come and take his child. He'd take her out and they'd have a ball.”Seven other Marines were charged with offenses ranging from dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and battery, aggravated assault, and negligent homicide in connection with Hatab's death and other alleged abuses, military officials said. Charges against five of the men were dismissed and one was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony during preliminary hearings.Major Clarke Paulus of the same unit has been charged with dereliction of duty, cruelty, maltreatment an assault, military officials said. He could get up to 5 1/2 years, dismissal and forefeiture of all pay and allowances. Calls to Pittman's ex-wife, Cheryl, went unanswered, and a woman identified by neighbors as Pittman's ex-mother-in-law who lives in the same building declined to comment.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.