U.S. Charges Soldiers with Murder in Iraq Case

Three U.S. soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder after being accused of shooting three detainees north of Baghdad on May 9 and then threatening to kill a fellow soldier if he told the truth about the incident.

The three Iraqi prisoners were killed last month near the volatile town of Balad. The Pentagon said the soldiers face charges including "murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat, and obstructing justice."

The names of those charged have not been released, but they are said to include a sergeant and two soldiers, members of the 101st Airborne Division. A defense official said the three are alleged to have shot and killed three Iraqi detainees on May 9. The soldiers said the detainees were running away and were shot, but investigators say their version is false. Other soldiers have come forward and spoken to the investigators.

The case comes as the U.S. military reviews two other incidents of civilian deaths in Iraq. One took place in Haditha, a city northwest of Baghdad, in which 24 civilians were killed by Marine gunfire. While that investigation is continuing, defense lawyers say they've been told by government officials that murder charges are likely.

The other case involves an Iraqi man killed by a Marine squad in Hamdiniyah, just west of the capital. The suspects in that incident include seven Marines and a Navy medic — some of whom have confessed. They are all now in pre-trial confinement and charges are expected this week or next.

Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Tom Bowman at the Pentagon.

Timeline: Investigating Balad

Charges are filed against U.S. soldiers in the case of Balad, in which the men are accused of shooting three unarmed Iraqis.

May 9, 2006: U.S. soldiers shoot and kill three Iraqi prisoners at the Muthana Chemical Complex near the volatile town of Balad, north of Baghdad.

June 19, 2006: The Army files murder charges against three soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division in the Balad incident. The soldiers first reported that the three Iraqis were running away when they were shot; the investigation found that was not the case. The three soldiers also are charged with filing a false statement and making a threat. The charges say they threatened another soldier with death if he talked to investigators.

Aug. 2, 2006: Article 32 hearings begin in the cases of the three soldiers. The hearings are the military equivalent of a grand jury, in which charges are considered and evidence and witnesses reviewed. At the conclusion, a hearing officer begins to draft a report on whether the soldiers should face courts martial.

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