This story was updated at 11:35 p.m. on March 15 to include a comment from the Air Force.
An American airman accused of attacking his fellow troops on a U.S. military outpost in Syria last year was acquitted of all charges Wednesday at the end of an eight-day court-martial, a civilian attorney advising the defendant told Air Force Times.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Dezwaan, an enlisted explosive ordnance disposal technician with the active-duty 775th Civil Engineer Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was charged with three violations of military code: destruction of military property; reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault.
The U.S. government argued that Dezwaan set up explosives that injured four service members — including himself — at Green Village, a small U.S. military base in northern Syria, in April 2022. The airman, who had served as his squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of EOD equipment, was deployed as an explosives specialist at the time.
Around $50,000 worth of military equipment was destroyed in the blasts, which struck after 1 a.m. local time, the publication Coffee or Die reported in September. Military lawyers used soil samples, bomb fragments and metal shavings to make their case against Dezwaan.
The injured troops were treated for traumatic brain injuries and returned to work later that month.
It remains unclear how the attack came to fruition. Coffee or Die reported that officials initially believed insurgents set the explosives, but targeted Dezwaan after uncovering text messages that Air Force lawyers said expressed dissatisfaction with his deployment.
Dezwaan was arrested in the United States on June 16, 2022, and placed in pretrial confinement at the Weber County Correctional Facility. His court-martial began the week of March 6.
A panel of three enlisted troops and five officers deliberated for six hours before issuing their verdict, said Phil Cave, a military law attorney at the Virginia-based firm Cave & Freeburg.
“We are pleased that the members found Tech. Sgt. Dezwaan innocent of all charges relating to an attack on MSS Green Village, Syria, in 2022,” Cave said in an email Wednesday. “He has served his country honorably for 15 years. He has been released from pretrial confinement and is back with his loving family who were present throughout the trial, along with many other members of the EOD community in his support.”
Trial counsel representing the government included Maj. Megan Ortner, Maj. Jasmine Prokscha, Capt. Taylor Brown, and Capt. Matias Montillano, according to the Air Force docket. Dezwaan was represented by Capt. Luke Harle, Capt. Nathan Wiebenga and Maj. Luke Gilhooly.
Dezwaan enlisted in 2007 and has received the Joint Service Achievement Medal as well as multiple service-level awards, according to the Air Force Personnel Center. He earned the Air Force Combat Action Medal for engaging in a firefight with enemy fighters while deployed with the Marine Corps to Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2009.
About 900 U.S. personnel remain in Syria to advise and assist the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting government troops in the country’s civil war.
“I am grateful for the close collaboration with the leadership teams at Air Force Materiel Command and Hill Air Force Base over the duration of this case. We appreciate the efforts of everyone involved and continue to trust the Air Force’s judicial process,” Air Forces Central commander Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich said in a statement Wednesday night.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.