- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) — A military prosecutor said yesterday that four U.S. soldiers accused of murder in Iraq crossed the line and violated the “laws of war,” arguing they freed three detainees, encouraged them to flee and then shot them down as they ran.

“Soldiers must follow the laws of war. That’s what makes us better than the terrorists, what sets us apart from the thugs and the hit men. These soldiers did just the opposite,” Capt. Joseph Mackey said in closing arguments at a hearing to determine if the four should face a court-martial — and possibly the death penalty.

Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder in the killing of three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The soldiers, all from the 101st Airborne Division’s 187th Infantry Regiment, declined to testify at the hearing, relying instead on statements they made to military investigators.

They claim the detainees, who were blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs with plastic straps, were killed while trying to escape.

Paul Bergrin, Pfc. Clagett’s civilian attorney, said in his closing arguments that the defendants are heroes, not killers.

“There is not enough credible and logical evidence where you could be convinced that these individuals deserve to face potentially the death penalty,” Mr. Bergrin said. “They are victims in this case and they deserve to be treated as victims, not as criminals.”

At the heart of the charges are “rules of engagement” outlining when U.S. troops can use deadly force.

The soldiers said they were ordered by ranking officers in the brigade to “kill all military-aged males” on the island. Witnesses testified this week that the rules provided for deadly force only against those who were hostile or refused to surrender.

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