updated 7/28/2004 9:19:35 AM ET 2004-07-28T13:19:35

The first American soldier charged with murder in Iraq appeared before a U.S. military court Wednesday as it opened investigative hearings that could lead to his court martial.

Army Capt. Rogelio M. Maynulet, who maintains he is innocent, appeared before a military version of a U.S. grand jury. The inquiry is looking at the shooting of a man during the hunt for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Wearing a green camouflage uniform, the 29-year-old sat expressionless as the proceedings began at a barracks in Hanau, outside Frankfurt. His wife sat two rows behind him.

Maynulet, of Chicago, was charged June 12 with murder and dereliction of duty in the suspected killing of an “unidentified paramilitary member” May 21 near Kufa, south of Baghdad, becoming the first U.S. soldier charged with murder in Iraq.

Maynulet had been leading his tank company on a mission between Najaf and Kufa to capture or kill al-Sadr, who was wanted on an Iraqi arrest warrant in connection with the slaying of a rival cleric.

Pursuit of speeding BMW
His group spotted a speeding BMW and pursued it, the military said.

“A chase began, and U.S. forces shot at the vehicle. The driver and a passenger were wounded. Shortly thereafter, the wounded driver was shot and killed at close range,” the U.S. military said in a statement.

The military has not released further details, but a better picture is expected to emerge from the current hearings, which Maynulet requested be open to the press.

Sessions are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday and are expected to continue intermittently into August. The hearings began in Baghdad but were suspended June 28 after four days, when Maynulet’s 1st Armored Division returned home to Germany. He is not in custody.

Also Wednesday, a lawyer for the families of six Iraqis killed in Iraq accused British soldiers of beating Iraqi prisoners and demanding that they “dance like Michael Jackson.”

British troops accused of violating rights laws
Opening a three-day hearing in the High Court, lawyers for the families asked two judges to rule that Britain’s Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights applied to British soldiers occupying Iraq and that independent inquiries into six test cases should be held.

The government says it will argue that human rights legislation does not apply. The Ministry of Defense says all allegations of death and mistreatment by British forces are investigated by the military.

Rabinder Singh, a lawyer for the Iraqis, criticized the government, saying: “This country should be proud to be a leader in the field of human rights, not a grudging follower.”

All the victims died in British-occupied southeastern Iraq after major combat was declared over on May 1, 2003, and before the handover of power to an Iraqi administration on June 28.

Victims were shot at home, attending a funeral and driving home from work. One victim was a policeman killed while performing a routine duty, said law firm Public Interest Lawyers, which is representing the claimants. Another victim was Baha Mousa, 26, a Basra hotel receptionist who died after allegedly being beaten by British troops in September 2003.

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