A six-member jury was selected Friday in the court-martial of a U.S. Navy captain accused of failing to rescue a boatload of Vietnamese refugees, forcing them to resort to cannibalism.
Capt. Alex Balian, 48, of Los Angeles, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, said Capt. James Freyer, judge in the court-martial at Subic Bay Naval Base, 50 miles northwest of Manila.Freyer, who said the court-martial would begin hearing testimony from witnesses on Monday, received documentary evidence from prosecutors Friday afternoon.
Earlier, lawyers for Balian and the prosecution screened members of the jury, pruning the number from eight to six Navy officers.
Balian, looking grim in his white uniform, listened to the challenges to the jury members during the selection process, but did not speak and declined to answer reporters' questions.
The 25-year veteran is facing charges of dereliction of duty for failing to rescue a group of Vietnamese refugees aboard a crippled boat which his transport, the USS Dubuque, encountered June 9 in the South China Sea some 280 miles from the Philippines.
He also is accused of allowing his men to repel a Vietnamese trying to climb aboard his vessel and of allowing another refugee to drown while swimming to the ship.
Balian, who was stripped of his command last August, has previously said he gave the refugees a seven-day supply of food and water that he calculated they would need to sail to land. He also says he gave them charts and maps showing the way to the Philippines.
Officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 52 of the refugees later reached the Philippines, but 58 people died during the 37-day voyage. Survivors told the that after the encounter with the Dubuque two Vietnamese died of starvation and three others were killed and eaten by fellow passengers.