- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A Navy corpsman testified yesterday that Marines in his patrol seized an Iraqi civilian from his home, threw him into a hole and fired at least 10 bullets into his head and chest after growing frustrated in their search for an insurgent.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos said he saw a Marine put fingerprints from the dead man onto a rifle and on a shovel to implicate him as an insurgent.

“I was shocked and I felt sick to my stomach,” he said.

Bacos, a corpsman who had been on patrol with the squad, was charged along with seven Marines in the slaying of Hashim Ibrahim Awad last spring in the town of Hamdania. But Bacos struck a deal with prosecutors under which he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy and agreed to testify yesterday at his court-martial about what he saw.

“I knew what we were doing was wrong,” he testified. “I knew we were doing something wrong and I tried to say something.”

Bacos said he asked the Marines to let Mr. Awad go, but Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda told him in crude terms that he was being weak and should stop protesting.

Bacos, 21, was the first of the servicemen to be court-martialed. The seven others could get up to life in prison.

Military judge Col. Steven Folsom sentenced Bacos to 10 years in prison but reduced the term to one year because of the plea agreement. That will be further reduced by time served. Other counts of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy were dropped in exchange for his cooperation. A reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge also were suspended.

Prosecutors have said that the servicemen killed Mr. Awad out of frustration and then planted an AK-47 assault rifle and a shovel by the body to make it look as if he had been caught digging a hole for a roadside bomb.

Bacos testified that the squad entered Hamdania on April 26 while searching for a known insurgent who had been captured three times, then released. Squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins was “just mad that we kept letting him go and he was a known terrorist,” Bacos said.

The group approached a house where the insurgent was thought to be hiding, but when someone inside woke up, the Marines instead went to another home and grabbed Mr. Awad, according to the testimony.

Bacos said the squad had intended to get someone else if they did not capture the insurgent, then stage a firefight to make it appear they had found an Iraqi planting a roadside bomb.

Mr. Awad, 52, was taken from the home with his feet and hands bound, then placed in a hole, Bacos said.

He said Sgt. Hutchins fired three rounds into the man’s head, then Cpl. Trent Thomas fired seven to 10 more rounds into his chest.

After the killing, Bacos said, Sgt. Hutchins called in to a command center and reported the squad had seen a man digging a hole and wanted permission to fire at him.

“Why didn’t I just walk away?” Bacos asked before being sentenced. “The answer to that question was I wanted to be part of the team. I wanted to be a respected corpsman, but that is no excuse for immorality.”

Along with Sgt. Hutchins and Cpls. Magincalda and Thomas, the other Marines charged are: Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Pfc. John J. Jodka.

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