Sailor testifies Marines killed Iraqi civilian
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Navy corpsman testified Friday that Marines in his patrol seized an Iraqi civilian from his home, threw him into a hole and put at least 10 bullets in 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 victim onto a rifle and on a shovel to implicate him as an insurgent.
“I was shocked and I felt sick to my stomach,” Bacos said.
Bacos, a medic 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 Friday at his court-martial about what he saw.
“I knew what we were doing was wrong,” Bacos testified, speaking nearly in a whisper. “I tried to say something and then I decided to look away.”
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 while a reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge also were suspended.
Prosecutors have said that the servicemen killed Awad out of frustration and then planted the assault rifle and 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 believed to be hiding, but when someone inside woke up, the Marines instead went to another home and grabbed Awad, according to the testimony.
Awad, 52, was taken from the home with his feet and hands bound, then placed in a hole, Bacos said.
Bacos said 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 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.
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