U.S. troops charged in Iraqi killing face hearings - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

8/30/06 San Diego, CA

U.S. troops charged in Iraqi killing face hearings

Hashim Ibrahim Awad was shot to death in a hole by a dusty road west of Baghdad. How the 52-year-old Iraqi came to be there is the focus of an inquiry with possible life and death consequences for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman.

Pretrial hearings for the eight soldiers charged with Awad's murder are set to start Wednesday, four months after his death. It will be the first time the facts have been explored in public.

Prosecutors claim the troops went into the rural Iraqi town of Hamdaniya, took Awad from his home, tied him up, put him in the hole and shot him without provocation April 26. The accused have been held in the brig at Camp Pendleton since May.

Defense lawyers say the troops are innocent and question the credibility of the Iraqis who reported the incident to U.S. authorities.

If convicted, the troops face the death penalty.

This week's hearings are part of an Article 32 probe, where an investigating officer will decide if there is probable cause to recommend bringing the defendants to trial. The decision rests with the convening authority, Lt. Gen. James Mattis.

The hearings come barely two months before midterm elections, with feelings about the war potentially determining whether Republicans maintain control of Congress.

Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego, said politicians would likely avoid campaigning on the case.

"Nobody is going to make political hay by criticizing soldiers in something like the trial that is going on at Pendleton," Jacobson said.

The charges, Jacobson said, are a black eye for the Marine Corps, which prides itself on discipline in the ranks and holding the moral high ground in wartime.

"It is bad for them politically, it's bad for them institutionally and it's bad for morale," Jacobson said. "It makes it harder to do their job if they are perceived to be acting in ways that are criminal."

Little about the case has been made public. According to charging documents, five of the troops are alleged to have shot Awad after kidnapping him from his home. All eight are being charged with murder because prosecutors say those who didn't shoot were complicit in the killing.

Investigators say the troops placed an AK-47 in Awad's hands, apparently to make it look like he was an insurgent.

Several defense attorneys have said their clients gave statements to investigators about the incident but did so under heavy-handed tactics, including threat of the death penalty.

The case may center on the troops' statements because with eight defendants, it is likely at least one will cooperate with prosecutors in return for the charges being dropped or a reduced penalty, said Gary D. Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge advocate who teaches law of war at Georgetown University Law Center.

"My understanding is there are so many statements out there, the web has been laid," Solis said.

The case might be a prelude to another trial, in which up to 12 Marines also based at Camp Pendleton may face murder charges in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in November. Several of those Marines have hired attorneys.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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