Prosecutor says U.S. soldiers accused of murder are ‘war criminals,’ urges trial
TIKRIT, Iraq – A military prosecutor said Friday that four U.S. soldiers accused of murder in Iraq crossed the line and violated the “laws of war,” arguing they freed three detainees, encouraged them to flee and then shot them down as they ran.”Soldiers must follow the laws of war. That’s what makes us better than the terrorists, what sets us apart from the thugs and the hit men. These soldiers did just the opposite,” Capt. Joseph Mackey said in closing arguments at a hearing to determine if the four should face a court-martial – and possibly the death penalty.Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder in the killing of three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.The soldiers, all from the 101st Airborne Division’s 187th Infantry Regiment, declined to testify at the hearing, relying instead on statements they made to military investigators.They claim the detainees, who were blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs with plastic straps, were killed while trying to escape.Paul Bergrin, Clagett’s civilian attorney, said in his closing arguments that the defendants are heroes, not killers.”There is not enough credible and logical evidence where you could be convinced that these individuals deserve to face potentially the death penalty,” Bergrin said. “They are victims in this case and they deserve to be treated as victims, not as criminals.”At the heart of the charges are “rules of engagement” outlining when U.S. troops can use deadly force.The soldiers said they were ordered by ranking officers in the brigade to “kill all military-aged males” on the island. Witnesses testified this week that the rules provided for deadly force only against those who were hostile or refused to surrender.The case is one in a string of alleged abuses that have raised questions about U.S. military operations in Iraq and fed Iraqi anger against the U.S.-led coalition.Six U.S. Marines were charged this week with assaulting civilians in Hamdania in April. Three of the men were already being held on murder charges in the death of a 52-year-old Iraqi.A hearing is scheduled to begin Sunday in Baghdad to determine if four other soldiers from the 101st Airborne should stand trial on charges they raped and murdered a 14-year-old girl in Mahmoudiya. Three members of her family were also slain.The prosecutor said in his closing arguments that the soldiers charged in the Samarra killings should be viewed as war criminals.”They are not war heroes, they are war criminals. And justice states that they face trial,” Mackey said.”Take a look at how they did it: They cut all three of the detainees loose at one time. These detainees were standing; they cut them free” before shooting them, he said.Mackey cited the testimony of Pfc. Bradley Mason, who told the hearing this week that the soldiers in his unit finalized the plan to kill the detainees during the mission.Hunsaker, Clagett and Girouard also are accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to kill Mason if he told investigators of the conspiracy.Bergrin, the defense lawyer, said the prosecution presented no physical or forensic evidence to prove the killings were not in self-defense.He dismissed Mason’s testimony as untrustworthy. “This case rises and this case falls on the testimony of Pfc. Mason,” he said, referring to the conflicting statements the soldier made in sworn statements.The hearing’s investigating officer, Lt. Col. James Daniel, will deliver a recommendation on whether a court-martial is warranted to the 101st Airborne’s commanding general.Capt. Theodore Miller, Girouard’s military attorney, urged Daniel to exercise restraint.”You are the first person in this chain of events who can stand up and say enough is enough,” Miller said.
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