Witness: Marines Hit Iraq Inmate Who Died

By ROBERT JABLON

Associated Press Writer

August 26, 2004

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- An Iraqi inmate who died at a U.S. detention camp was hit by several Marines, including a sergeant accused of kicking him in the chest, a key prosecution witness testified Wednesday.

Pfc. William Roy said he and defendant Sgt. Gary Pittman believed Nagem Hatab, 52, had sold a rifle taken during the ambush of an Army convoy that left 11 soldiers dead and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and five others.

A day after Hatab's arrival at Camp Whitehorse, Pittman struck Hatab in the chest, Roy said. The inmate fell to the ground and asked in English "Why? Why? Why?" - telling guards he had 11 children.

"What about those people who were in the ambush you got this rifle from? What about their children?" Roy recalled replying.

Pittman, he said, then delivered a strong kick to the man's chest, sending him to the ground. Roy said he suggested they both leave before they harmed Hatab further.

Roy said he saw the Marine hit Hatab with the side of his foot. "He had a boot on that made contact with the man's chest and he went backwards," he said.

Under cross-examination, Roy described Hatab as a "pretty ornery prisoner." He added that he believed reasonable and necessary force was used to subdue Hatab after he resisted commands and, at one point, got out of his flexible handcuffs.

Pittman could get two years in a military prison if found guilty of assault and dereliction of duty. The case is the first court-martial known to be connected to the death of a prisoner in Iraq.

Roy, who was demoted from the rank of lance corporal as part of a plea deal in which he agreed to testify, said he also saw other Marines strike Hatab - including a corpsman who hit him in the arms, ribs, lower belly and chest.

"I was angry. ... This guy was more than likely involved in the deaths of these people," he said. "We were angry about being there. We were angry about a lot of things."

Pittman appeared to listen intently to Roy, the only Marine from Camp Whitehorse who claims to have seen the defendant strike Hatab. Roy did not look directly at Pittman as he spoke from the stand.

Roy also testified he and Pittman kneed another prisoner and a third guard struck him following a strip search. He said the attack on the man, identified only as a sheik, was "retribution" for a skirmish between U.S. troops and the sheik's supporters.

The idea, Roy said, was "to put some pain on him. At that time I felt it was what was expected of us."

Earlier Wednesday, Staff Sgt. Fredy Tellocastillo, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the camp, testified that guards commonly punched or kicked inmates as part of a sleep-deprivation tactic to soften them up for military interrogators. But he said he never saw unnecessary force used on Hatab.

The defense says Pittman, 40, was too sick at the time Hatab was injured to have harmed him and that another Marine may have caused the injuries.

A general court-martial is to begin next month for Maj. Clarke Paulus, who at one point allegedly ordered another Marine to drag Hatab by the neck. Whitehorse base commander Maj. Michael Froeder faces charges of negligence and abuse of prisoners.

Hatab is among 37 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners whose deaths are under investigation.