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Army opens hearing on accused U.S. soldiers

The U.S. Army began a hearing Tuesday on whether the four American soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqis during a raid in which they were allegedly under orders to "kill all military-age males" should stand trial.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Army opened a hearing Tuesday to determine whether four American soldiers must stand trial for allegedly murdering three Iraqis during a raid where they claimed they were under orders to “kill all military-age males.”

Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder and other offenses in the May 9 shooting deaths near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Girouard, Hunsaker and Clagett are also accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to kill another soldier if he told authorities what happened.

All four are members of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and have been jailed in Kuwait since they were arrested in June. They were moved to Tikrit, the division headquarters, for the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

The hearing, which is expected to last several days, opened with testimony from two investigators who questioned the soldiers when the allegations surfaced last month.

Under cross-examination from Girouard’s lawyer, Capt. Shaun Lister, special agent Billy Higginson said someone approached him on June 14 with information regarding a “potential conspiracy.”

'Lies, trickery or deceit' during interviews
Higginson said he began questioning soldiers who might have knowledge of such a conspiracy on the same day. He said Graber displayed an “unresponsive” look when asked about a conspiracy but confirmed there was one 15 minutes into the interview.

The investigator acknowledged that he and his colleagues sometimes resort to “lies, trickery or deceit” to extract confessions.

Clagett’s civilian lawyer, Christopher Bergrin, told investigating officer Lt. Col. James P. Daniel that he intended to call the brigade commander, Col. Michael Steele, to testify during the hearing.

Steele was not present in the hearing room Tuesday. Daniels said the commander had signed a statement “invoking his right not to testify.”

As a captain, Steele took part in the ill-starred 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.

Officers from their unit initially cleared the four soldiers of wrongdoing. Charges were filed when witnesses changed their testimony after repeated interviews with Army investigators, Bergrin said last week.