A Marine sergeant accused of murdering an unarmed Iraqi captive during heavy fighting in Fallujah in 2004 was heard on tape Thursday telling how his squad argued over what to do with their prisoners and saying he "did one guy" as they sought to keep up with their unit.
The recording played by military prosecutors was made when Sgt. Ryan Weemer, 25, was applying for a job with the U.S. Secret Service. It was played at the start of an Article 32 hearing, at which investigating officer Maj. Glen Hines will determine whether there is enough evidence to support a court-martial, or military trial.
In the interview, Weemer said he and other squad members killed four unarmed Iraqis they were holding in a boarded-up house because they didn't have time to take the men to a jail.
"We called up to the platoon leader and the response was, 'Are they dead yet?'" Weemer said on the tape.
"We didn't take any prisoners. ... They didn't have weapons. They were just sitting there," Weemer went on. "We argued about it, but we had to move, we had to get out, our unit's moving down the street. I did one guy and then ... I just left, went out to my team."
Murder and dereliction of duty charges
Weemer is charged with one count of murder and six counts of dereliction of duty encompassing failure to follow the rules of engagement in Fallujah and failing to follow standard operating procedures for apprehending or treating detainees or civilian prisoners of war.
He faces a life sentence in military prison and dishonorable discharge if he is convicted of murder, and up to six months' imprisonment for each dereliction count.
The 2006 interview, during which Weemer was given a lie-detector test and asked whether he had participated in a serious crime, was the first time the alleged crime came to light. The interviewer suggested it would be a crime to shoot an unarmed person in the back "even if the guy is a scumbag."
"That actually did happen, to be honest," Weemer replied.
Weemer told his interviewer that the killing came shortly after his best friend was shot by snipers. The Marine said his squad was given orders to clear an apparently empty house "to get our heads back in the game," but instead found four or five men inside and subdued them behind the house while they blew up a safe.
Weemer said he was aware of instances where Iraqis had been transported to jails, but said at the time he believed if the men were released they might "run down the street and pick up an AK." AK refers to a type of assault rifle.
"The way I see it, it was a situation where we couldn't take these guys," Weemer said. "We called and asked what to do, they said we couldn't take them, we're moving."
Limited use of tapes
Hines limited use of the tapes to about 15 minutes focused on Weemer's description of the shooting. Defense attorney Paul Hackett had objected to playing the full tapes, which include details of Weemer's childhood. A high school football captain, he joined the Marines in 2001 after graduating as class salutatorian.
Weemer's squad leader, Jose Nazario Jr., 27, of Riverside, Calif., has been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of two captives "upon a sudden quarrel and a heat of passion." Because he has already completed his military service, the former sergeant is scheduled to be tried in August in federal court.
A third Marine, 26-year-old Sgt. Jermaine Nelson of New York, is slated to be court-martialed in December on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty.
Prosecutors also played excerpts of Nelson's account of the shootings, recorded in a March 2007 interview with Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Mark Fox. Nelson said Nazario grew irate after finding weapons despite the detainees' protestations that the house was weapons-free.
'You're going to do one'
Nelson said Nazario fired the first shot, grazing a detainee's ear, and made fun of Nelson for trying to administer first-aid. Nazario then allegedly took a second Iraqi into the kitchen and shot him through the eye.
"So Nazario comes up, he says, 'I just did one; I'm not doing all of them myself, so you're going to do one,'" Nelson told Fox. "So I'm thinking I didn't want to get shot myself."
Fox testified during Nelson's Article 32 hearing in March that the Marine told him Nazario was getting radio commands to hurry up inside the house and demanded that Nelson and Weemer help him kill all four captives rather than take them along.
Last month, Nelson and Weemer were jailed for refusing to testify against Nazario before a federal grand jury believed to be investigating the case. Both were released July 3 and returned to Camp Pendleton, where they are working in a non-combat capacity.
The killings on Nov. 9, 2004, came after the squad captured men they believed had been shooting at them from a house.