updated 8/2/2006 12:24:39 PM ET 2006-08-02T16:24:39

A U.S. soldier testified Wednesday that four of his colleagues accused of murdering three Iraqis during a raid threatened to kill him if he told anyone about the shooting deaths.

Pfc. Bradley Mason, speaking at a hearing to determine whether the four must stand trial, also said that their brigade commander, a veteran of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle in Somalia, told troops hunting insurgents to “kill all of them.” Mason is not one of the accused.

The alleged killings May 9 near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, have dealt another blow to the reputation of U.S. soldiers over their conduct in Iraq and fueled anger against their presence.

U.S. soldiers and Marines have been accused of a string of civilian deaths in Iraq, including the alleged massacre of dozens in Haditha. Another hearing is scheduled later this month over allegations that five U.S. soldiers raped and killed a 14-year-old girl.

Mason testified that Spc. William B. Hunsaker threatened him a day after the alleged killings. He said he was accosted by Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett on May 29 when he was on his way to the Criminal Investigation Division.

Asked what was said that was of a threatening nature, Mason replied that Girouard told him: “‘If you say anything, I’ll kill you.’ I took them pretty seriously.”

Girouard, Hunsaker, Clagett and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder and other offenses in the shooting deaths. The first three are also accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to kill Mason.

The accused soldiers and Mason are members of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

'Kill all the male insurgents’
Mason said that before they embarked on the search mission, the rules of engagement were explained and clearly spelled out by brigade commander Col. Michael Steele.

“He (Steele) just said that the rules of engagement were that ‘we get to kill all the male insurgents,”’ Mason said.

“Kill all of them,” Mason quoted Steele as saying. When asked who those people were, Mason said “insurgents, terrorists.”

“He (Steele) said that this was declared a hot area and that some special forces had been there before, and they got knocked out, so they sent us in,” Mason said.

Describing the events of May 9, Mason testified that he was with the four accused during a raid on a house with an objective “to catch all the bad guys.” On entering the house, the unit found and detained three men hiding behind two women.

He said soldiers found one handgun, one AK-47 automatic rifle, and many gun parts and bullets.

Mason quoted Girouard as saying that Clagett and Hunsaker were going to kill the three detainees.

“They just smiled,” he said.

“I told him (Girouard) that I’m not down with it. It’s murder,” he said. Immediately afterward, he heard gunshots, he said.

Competition for kills?
Clagett’s civilian lawyer, Christopher Bergrin, has said he intends to call Steele to testify during the hearing. Steele has apparently signed a statement invoking his right not to testify.

Steele, then a captain, took part in the 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, that killed 18 U.S. troops — the basis for the “Black Hawk Down” book and movie — and led to the failure of a U.N. peacekeeping mission there two years later.

Mason said the squad’s 1st sergeant would tell soldiers they did a good job if they killed an Iraqi. Mason said he believed it was a competition for kills.

“I know he said good job after we killed one of them,” he said.

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