US soldier faces court martial

2009-04-12 14:02
Frankfurt - A US sergeant is to face a court martial on Monday on murder charges over four Iraqi detainees who prosecutors and co-defendants say were bound, blindfolded and shot in the head.

Master Sergeant John E. Hatley, 40, is charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice, according to an army statement.

The charges are related to the killings of prisoners in March or April 2007 near Baghdad.

Two other non-commissioned officers - Sergeant Michael Leahy, a medic, and Sergeant First Class Joseph Mayo - have been found guilty of taking part in the killings and sentenced to life and 35 years in prison.

According to testimony from Mayo's trial, at which he pleaded guilty, all three sergeants shot the prisoners in the back of the head with nine-millimetre pistols.

Mayo, 27, said: "I really believed I was protecting my soldiers" because he believed the men, who he said were captured with assault rifles and a duffel bag full of ammunition, would mount attacks on US troops in the future.

Two sniper rifles were also found nearby and the US unit, which belonged to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, then part of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, had seen a sergeant killed by a sniper a few weeks earlier.

A total of seven US soldiers were implicated in the case, but only the three sergeants have been tried for murder.

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