Marines Will Charge Eight in Killing of Iraqi Civilian

The Marine Corps plans to charge seven Marines and a Navy medic with murder in connection with the death of an Iraqi civilian in April. A news conference is expected Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where the accused service members are being held.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In the last hour, we've learned that the Marine Corps plans to charge seven Marines and a Navy medic with murder in connection with the death of an Iraqi civilian in April. A news conference is expected later today at Camp Pendleton, in California, where the accused service members are being held.

NPR's Pentagon Correspondent, Tom Bowman, has been following this story, and he joins me now. Tom, what have you learned about these charges?

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

Well, murder charges will be filed against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, essentially a medic. And the other charges will include conspiracy, making false official statements, assault, and larceny. And we understand that the squad leader's name is Sergeant Laurence Hutchins.

WERTHEIMER: These charges stem from an April incident in western Iraq. What do you know about what happened?

BOWMAN: Well, investigators have found that the Marines and the medic went on a patrol in the middle of the night on April 26 and they were looking for suspected insurgent. And they went to his house and no one was there, and then were told that they went to a random house in the neighborhood; burst in and pulled out a 52-year-old man - whose name is Hashim Awad - and took him away, questioned him, and then, according to investigators, shot him. And the allegations are that they planted evidence at the scene; an AK-47 assault rifle as well, as a shovel to make it look like he was an insurgent ready to plant bombs.

WERTHEIMER: And the evidence they have against these men is what?

BOWMAN: Well, they have statements from both Marines and the man's brother. They have recovered the AK-47 assault rifle, the shovel. And they also, several weeks ago, exhumed the body of Hashim Awad and flew him to Dover, Deleware, to the military's main mortuary, where they have sophisticated lab equipment and testing facilities. They tested the body and investigators believe they may have recovered fragments form the body that could match some of the bullets allegedly fired by the Marines. And then they quickly returned him to Iraq. Where he is reburied.

WERTHEIMER: What's the next step in this process?

BOWMAN: The next step will be what's known as an Article-32 hearing. It's the military's equivalent of a civilian grand jury. No date has been set for that, but they're looking at probably in the next several weeks.

WERTHEIMER: Hamdaniya is one of several cases of allegations of U.S. serve members killing Iraqi civilians. Is there anything more coming quickly?

BOWMAN: The other case, the biggest case, is concerning an incident that happened at Haditha - which is northwest of Baghdad - last November. And the allegations are that Marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians. The investigation is ongoing into that case, and we don't expect anything probably until some time in July.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, so we will keep in touch with that story over the course of the next few weeks. Thanks very much, Tom.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman.

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