- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

TIKRIT, Iraq — A U.S. soldier testified yesterday that members of his squadron accused of killing three Iraqis had received orders to kill all the insurgents they encountered during a raid on an island suspected of harboring al Qaeda members.

Pfc. Bradley Mason said that orders to “kill all of them” were clear before the raid, which ended in the deaths of the three male detainees. He was testifying during a hearing in Tikrit to determine whether soldiers will be court-martialed for murder.

The reported slayings May 9 near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, have dealt another blow to the reputation of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and have fueled anger against the coalition presence.

U.S. soldiers and Marines have been accused of a string of civilian deaths in Iraq, including the reported massacre of dozens in Haditha. Another hearing is scheduled this weekend for soldiers accused of involvement in the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl. Four soldiers are accused in the death, and a fifth is accused of failing to report the crime.

Pfc. Mason said the brigade commander, Col. Michael Steele, told nearly 1,000 soldiers before the raid that the area was considered “hot,” and they should be prepared for fire.

Col. Steele “just said that the rules of engagement were that we get to kill all the male insurgents,” said the soldier, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

“Kill all of them,” Pfc. Mason quoted Col. Steele as saying.

The four accused soldiers initially said the detainees were killed because they tried to escape, but military prosecutors now say they were let loose and then shot.

The soldier testified that Spc. William B. Hunsaker threatened him a day after the reported killings. He said he was accosted three weeks later by Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett as he was on his way to discuss the raid with the Criminal Investigation Division.

The soldier said Sgt. Girouard warned him: “If you say anything, I’ll kill you.”

Sgt. Girouard, Spc. Hunsaker, Pfc. Clagett and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder and other offenses in the shooting deaths. The first three also are accused of obstruction of justice for reportedly threatening to kill Pfc. Mason, the prosecution’s leading witness.

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

At least one of the soldiers charged with murder has said that Col. Steele’s orders for the day were to “kill all military-aged males.” Several witnesses testified about slight variations to the order, including restricting soldiers to kill only those who showed “no signs of surrender.”

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