Army says 3 soldiers shot 3 Iraqis execution-style
Witness allegedly was threatened
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | June 20, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The Army said yesterday it has charged three soldiers with premeditated murder and other criminal offenses for shooting to death three unarmed Iraqis last month and then later threatening to kill a fellow soldier if he revealed details to investigators.
The soldiers from the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division allegedly shot the three Iraqis execution-style after detaining them during a raid on a suspected insurgent training camp May 9 near Thar Thar Canal , southwest of Tikrit, military officials said. The US military said at the time that more than 200 people were detained during the operation.
The three defendants -- Private Corey R. Clagett , Staff Sergeant Raymond L. Girouard , and Specialist William B. Hunsaker -- are accused of killing three males of ``apparent Middle Eastern descent" at the Muthana Chemical Complex north of Baghdad by shooting them at close range, according to the official Army charges made public yesterday.
The charges, which could bring the death penalty, are the latest in a string of investigations into whether US forces have been responsible for the wrongful deaths of Iraqis, either in custody or during combat operations.
The most serious among them is a criminal investigation into whether Marines shot to death 24 civilians in the town of Haditha in November after they came under attack from a roadside bomb. An investigation into how that case was handled by the chain of command has been completed and is being reviewed by the top ground commander in Iraq, while the criminal probe continues.
In another recent case, seven Marines and one Navy corpsman are being held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on allegations that they kidnapped and killed an unarmed Iraqi man in the town of Hamdaniya, west of Baghdad, in April -- and then tried to make it look as if the man tried to attack them. No charges have been filed in the case, and lawyers representing the troops have contended that the media coverage has made a fair trial impossible.
The murder charges announced yesterday against the three soldiers from the 101st were brought after an investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The inquiry was launched immediately after the May 9 incident when the company commander on the scene, Captain Jason A. Sienko , questioned the circumstances surrounding the deaths, the Army statement said.
``On the day the alleged murders occurred, the unit commander ordered an inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three detainees," the statement said yesterday.
The inquiry was first made public Friday in a brief statement that said Lieutenant General Peter W. Chiarelli , commander of the Multinational Corp-Iraq, ``requested that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of three males on Coalition Force custody in southern Salah ad Din Province on or about May 9, 2006."
The investigation apparently did not take long to complete, and the charges were brought against the three soldiers last Thursday, one day before Chiarelli's announcement, according to the Army documents.
All three soldiers, the documents charge, ``did, at or near the Muthana Chemical Complex, Iraq, on or about May 9, 2006, with premeditation, [each] murder a male detainee of apparent Middle-eastern descent whose name is unknown by means of shooting them with a firearm."
Each of the soldiers is also accused of trying to silence a witness in the case, Private Bradley L. Mason , by threatening him and trying to influence his testimony during the investigation.
Clagett is accused of telling Mason on or about May 29 that ``staff Sergeant Girouard will not have to kill you because I will kill you if you say anything," according to his charge sheet.
Girouard, who is charged with two counts of premeditated murder, is also accused of leveling multiple threats to try to cover up the May incident. For example, he is accused of telling Mason that ``I will kill you if you tell anyone," according to the official charges.
Hunsaker is also accused of trying to influence the testimony of Mason. On at least two occasions, immediately after the incident and then again last week, Hunsaker allegedly threatened Mason by telling him, ``Don't tell anyone because if I go to jail I will kill you," or words to that effect, according to his charge sheet.
To date, there have been about 600 investigations into incidents involving detainees in US military custody, including natural deaths and detainee assaults on other detainees, according to Army spokesman Paul Boyce. As a result, he said, 267 soldiers have received some punishment, including 85 courts martial and 95 non judicial actions.
In one on those cases, soldiers were charged in the suffocating death of a former Iraqi general in American custody. Two Pentagon reports, made public Friday, said murky procedures, lack of oversight, and inadequate resources have led to the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Material from wire services contributed to this report. Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.