3 U.S. Soldiers Charged With Murder in Shootings of Iraqi Detainees

The men are also accused of threatening a fellow GI to keep quiet about the circumstances of the deaths.

By Julian E. Barnes

Los Angeles Times

June 20, 2006

WASHINGTON — Three U.S. Army soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the killing of three Iraqi detainees as well as with threatening the life of a fellow soldier who they feared would challenge their accounts of the deaths, military officials said Monday.

The three Americans were identified as Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, all members of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. They were charged in connection with the shooting of the three detainees May 9 in a province north of Baghdad.

A murder conviction in the military carries the possibility of the death penalty.

The accused soldiers are being held in Kuwait, a Pentagon official said. No personal information was available Monday about the soldiers.

The latest charges come as the military is conducting a separate investigation of the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha in November. Military investigators are examining possible murder charges against a group of Marines in connection with those deaths.

In addition, seven other Marines and a Navy corpsman are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton in connection with the death of an Iraqi man in another town, Hamandiya.

Since the start of the Iraq war, the military has brought criminal charges against at least 20 other service members in deaths of Iraqis.

Military officials first mentioned the investigation of the three detainees' deaths in a brief news release Friday. But details of how the three soldiers shot the men, near the Muthana Chemical Complex in southern Salahuddin province, have remained sketchy. The military has not said why the three Iraqis were being detained.

In addition to murder, the soldiers were charged with conspiracy and with threatening another soldier.

Military officials said that the accused initially reported that they shot the detainees while they were trying to flee.

But that account was contradicted by a junior soldier who witnessed the shooting. Defense Department charge sheets released Monday identify the object of the threats as Army Pfc. Bradley Mason.

The legal papers do not specify whether Mason is the soldier who witnessed the killings.

The accused soldiers are charged with threatening to kill Mason on May 29, as the men were traveling from their operating base to Camp Speicher, near Tikrit, where the Criminal Investigation Division has an office.

"You better not say anything or I swear I will kill you," Girouard allegedly told Mason, according to charge sheets.

Clagett allegedly drove home the threat by telling Mason, "Staff Sgt. Girouard will not have to kill you because I will kill you if you say anything," the charge sheets say.

Girouard is accused of threatening to kill Mason six different times in the weeks after the detainees died. Hunsaker is accused of threatening Mason four times, and Clagett twice.

The accused soldiers face a hearing that will determine whether there is enough evidence for a court-martial proceeding.

The first proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is probably several weeks away, a Defense official said.

A military officer in Baghdad commended junior soldiers who refused to buckle under pressure from others.

"What is key is the junior enlisted guy turned them in," the officer said. "People did bad things, but someone stepped up and did the right thing."