updated 1/26/2004 9:23:18 PM ET 2004-01-27T02:23:18

Three Marine reservists appeared in military court Monday to face charges stemming from the death of an Iraqi prisoner who prosecutors said was punched, karate-kicked and dragged by the throat while in their custody.

The military prosecutor, Capt. Leon Francis, said Nagen Sadoon Hatab, a high-ranking member of the Baath Party, was among three prisoners “of notoriety” brought to a detention facility in southern Iraq last June. Hatab, 52, had been left lying naked, covered in his own feces, for hours when he was found dead.

Francis said Hatab was singled out for punishment because he was captured with an M16 rifle belonging to the 507th Maintenance Company, which had been ambushed in Nasiriyah in March.

Eleven members of the 507th were killed, nine wounded and six captured, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

“They (Marines at the detention facility) believed that these individuals might be linked to that ambush,” Francis said.

The reservists were in court Monday for an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, which will help commanders determine whether they will be court-martialed.

Of the three reservists, Lance Cpl. Christian Hernandez and his superior officer, Maj. Clark A. Paulus, face the most serious charge — negligent homicide — as well as charges of cruelty, assault and dereliction of duty. Sgt. Gary Pittman is accused of dereliction of duty and assault.

Jack Zimmerman, the attorney representing Hernandez, said in his opening statement that Hatab had bragged about killing Americans.

A fourth Marine, Lance Cpl. William Roy, who was supposed to appear in court, struck a deal with the military and will testify against his former comrades under a grant of immunity.

A total of eight reservists were accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners at Camp Whitehorse, a makeshift jail near Nasiriyah. Three reservists have already been ordered to face special courts-martial.

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