Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pentagon charges 8 in death of Iraqi

The Boston Globe
Kidnap and murder of civilian alleged

By Charlie Savage and Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | June 22, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon yesterday charged seven Marines and a Navy corpsman with premeditated murder and kidnapping in connection with the April death of an unarmed Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, a Sunni village about 50 miles west of Baghdad near the Abu Ghraib prison.

The announcement marked the second time this week that the US military began court-martial proceedings against a group of military personnel accused of murdering unarmed Iraqis.

The defendants in the latest case -- none ranking higher than sergeant -- are accused of pulling 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad out of his house on April 26, binding his hands and feet, and then shooting him without provocation.

The troops are also accused of conspiracy and making false statements in an effort to cover up the circumstances of the death. The defendants reportedly claimed they had caught the man in the act of setting a roadside bomb, and they allegedly planted an AK-47 and a shovel near his body to create the impression that he had been an insurgent.

``The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," said Colonel Stewart Navarre during a press conference announcing the charges at Camp Pendleton, Calif. , where the eight defendants from the First Marine Division are being held in a brig. ``The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."

On Monday, the Army brought charges of premeditated murder against three soldiers for allegedly killing three Iraqi civilians who had been rounded up during a sweep of a suspected insurgent hide-out on May 9 north of Baghdad. The defendants were also accused of threatening to kill a fellow soldier if he revealed details to investigators .

Separately yesterday, the military in Iraq announced that murder charges had been filed against a fourth Army soldier in connection to the May 9 killings. The Army charged Specialist Juston R. Graber, 20, of the 101st Airborne Division, with premeditated murder and several lesser charges.

And in a third case, military investigators continue to look into allegations that other Marines from Camp Pendleton may have fatally shot as many as 24 Iraqi civilians -- including women and children -- in the town of Haditha last November after a member of their patrol was killed in a roadside bombing.

The Haditha and Hamdania cases have shaken the close-knit military community around Camp Pendleton, which is home to both of the Marine units involved.

Earlier this month, the Marine commandant, General Michael Hagee, visited Iraq to reinforce the importance of protecting non combatants.

``As commandant I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamdania," Hagee told a Pentagon news conference June 7. ``I can assure you that the Marine Corps takes them seriously."

The Marine Corps identified the eight defendants in the Hamdania case as Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class Melson J. Bacos, Marine Sergeant Lawrence G. Hutchins III , Marine Lance Corporal Tyler A. Jackson, Marine Private First Class John J. Jodka, Marine Corporal Marshall L. Magincalda, Marine Lance Corporal Robert B. Pennington, Marine Lance Corporal Jerry E. Shumate Jr., and Marine Corporal Trent D. Thomas .

Marine Corps officials had said for several weeks that they expected to bring charges in the Hamdania case, and lawyers representing the defendants have accused military authorities of convicting the defendants before they had a day in court.

Lawyers and family members for the defendants have also protested the conditions of their confinement as unduly harsh, since they have not been convicted of a crime. Until last Friday, the eight defendants were being kept in solitary confinement at the brig in Camp Pendleton.

Jodka's father has created a website,, to protest his son's confinement and raise money for a legal defense fund. Jodka has also hired a former military prosecutor, Joseph N. Casas , to act as his civilian defense counsel, in addition to his free military defense attorney.

``The charges are serious but my client stands by his claims of innocence," Casas said yesterday in a phone interview with the Globe.

Casas said he is working on a series of discovery requests to gain access to all the information the Marine Corps has about the killing.

``They need to provide us with a lot of material," Casas said. ``We don't have much of anything. We have tons of questions. We want to know the autopsy results. We want to know who the witness es are in Iraq. I will probably have to go to Iraq."

At the State Department, spokesman Adam Ereli said the charges showed that the United States takes seriously any allegations of war crimes by its troops.

``We've made clear that these acts are aberrant, that they are to be condemned, that they do not represent us . . . and that we do everything in our power to prevent them from taking place and to take corrective action when they do take place," he said.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.

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