(AFP) – Sep 14, 2008
CAMP SPEICHER, Iraq (AFP) — Prosecutors called on Sunday for a US soldier to face court martial for the murder of an Iraqi detainee after two days of testimony at a pre-trial hearing.
Staff Sergeant Hal Warner, 34, has been charged, along with First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, with the premeditated murder of detainee Ali Mansur Mohammed, as well as assault, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice.
"There are reasonable grounds to think that the accused did what he is accused of," prosecutor Captain Meghan Poirier said after Warner's hearing at Camp Speicher, a military base near executed dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
"We are charging Sergent Warner was a principal for the role he played in this murder."
Deputy prosecutor Captain Jason Elbert said: "He can be prosecuted under a general court martial."
Behenna's pre-trial hearing is scheduled for September 20.
Several US and Iraqi witnesses testified against Warner.
On Sunday, an Iraqi translator, whose name was withheld for security reasons, gave gruesome testimony of how Mohammed was first shot and then had his face disfigured with a thermite grenade.
The murder was committed on May 16 under a bridge in the northern oil refinery town of Baiji, after the two soldiers left their base with Mohammed to set him free at a checkpoint.
"Lieutenant Behenna started talking with Ali Mansur and Sergeant Warner followed them," the witness said.
"Behenna and Warner started taking off Ali Mansur's clothes with their knives. They then cut his handcuffs."
Behenna ordered the detainee to sit, the translator said, adding that Behenna seemed to be keen to get information from the detainee regarding an attack on US troops in April.
The witness, who was acting as a translator to Behenna, said the officer asked the detainee several times: "What do you know you have to tell me."
"Ali Mansur said I will talk to you but Lieutenant Behenna pulled trigger and killed him," the translator said speaking in English, adding that Behenna had told him that the detainee was linked to an attack on US forces near Baiji on April 21.
That roadside bombing killed four people, including two American soldiers.
"Before we started the patrol, Lieutenant Behenna told to Ali Mansur 'I will kill you'. I thought Lieutenant Behenna was trying to scare him. I did not think he would go through (with it)," the translator added.
"I was standing 10 metres (yards) back during the shooting -- I could see everything even if it was getting dark -- and Sergeant Warner was next to me."
Warner then "took the grenade from his pocket, pulled the safety ring, walked around and put the grenade under Ali Mansur's head.
"Then they hid his clothes, and Behenna and Warner went back."
On Saturday, two US soldiers from the same battalion as the accused also testified against Warner.
Corporal Cody Atkinson said that Behenna and Warner, armed with a grenade, took Mohammed out of the vehicle and under the bridge.
Mohammed was initially believed to have been freed along with another detainee at a checkpoint, but his naked and badly burnt body was found under the bridge the next day.
"We all thought that we were going to jail for this. Sergeant Warner told us to write that Ali Mansur had been released," Atkinson told the hearing on Saturday.
When Atkinson was asked whether Warner told him Behenna killed Mohammed, he answered "Yes."
Another soldier, Sergeant Milton Sanchez, testified that Behenna told him Mohammed was a "bad guy."
"I know he (Behenna) was mad. He did not think that we should release him. He thought we were wrong to drop this detainee," Sanchez said.
The US military in Iraq has been rocked by a series of scandals.
The most serious charges of unlawful killings came when a group of marines was accused of murdering 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005 after a roadside bomb killed a comrade.
Eight marines were charged the following year, but most were either acquitted or had the charges withdrawn before court martial.
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