Military Hearing Begins for Hamdania Accusations

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A military hearing begins to determine whether seven Marines and a Navy corpsman should be court-martialed for allegedly kidnapping and killing an Iraqi man in April in the town of Hamdania.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Military prosecutors at Camp Pendleton, California open hearings today over a case in Iraq. The hearings determine if seven Marines and a Navy corpsman should be court-martialed. They're accused of kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi man. This is the incident that has alleged to have taken place in April in the town of Hamdaniyah, which is just went of Baghdad.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following this story. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now remind us what military investigators happened at Hamdaniyah and what's expected at today's hearing.

BOWMAN: Well, the investigators say that these Marines went on a patrol at Hamdaniyah on April 26, and they were looking for a suspected insurgent. Now they didn't find him and instead they went to a nearby house, apparently at random. And they grabbed Hashim Ibrahim Awad. He was 52 years old and lame; he had a steel rod in his leg.

And they allegedly dragged him from the house, shot him, and then they planted evidence at the scene, according to investigators, to make it look like he was an insurgent. They left a shovel to make it appear he was digging roadside bombs and also an AK-47 assault rifle.

Now two of the Marines will face hearings today. One is Corporal Marshal Magincalda, Jr. The other is Private First Class John Jodka III. Both are from California. Magincalda served three tours in Iraq and was wounded twice. Jodka served one tour.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the planted evidence. What evidence shows that that was a fake and that these men did what they're accused of?

BOWMAN: Well, investigators and government officials I've talked with say they have statement s from both Iraqis as well as squad members, and they say many of the eight have already confessed. And this is the only major case we have now - and there were four major cases - where they exhumed the body.

They exhumed Hashim Awad's body back in, I believe, June, and they flew him to a mortuary in Delaware, military mortuary. And the reports show that he was shot 14 times. So there is forensic evidence.

And also NPR has learned that the investigators also have two videos. One was sent by a Marine to his wife saying in essence we did something wrong. And another, I'm told by a government official, is a rap-style video that talks about - several Marines were on it - talks about killing a local man.

INSKEEP: Celebrating that killing?

BOWMAN: No, no, just talks about killing a local man. I wouldn't say celebrating.

INSKEEP: Okay. Now how different does this story when you hear it from the lawyers for the accused?

BOWMAN: Well, the lawyers say, first of all, that many of these statements were coerced, so they're going to jump all over that. They also say the statements are contradictory. They say that these Marines were honorable; they served in one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq, and they did their duty.

But they're not saying too much about what happened that day. They're saving that, of course, for the hearing.

INSKEEP: Which - what comes next here then?

BOWMAN: Well, the hearing generally lasts several days and then the hearing officer will file a report with a senior commander. And it'll be up to the commander to determine whether this goes forward to a full-fledged court-martial. Again, they're charged with murder and kidnapping. It could be that these charges stay through the court-martial. They could be reduced in some way.

INSKEEP: What's the maximum penalty?

BOWMAN: Well, you could get the death penalty; you could get life in prison for the charges. But most people think they will not get the death penalty if convicted.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman.

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Timeline: Investigating Hamdania

Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Jr.

Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Jr., walks into the courtroom at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in California on Aug. 30, 2006. He is one of seven Marines and one Navy medic who are charged in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania. Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. forces are accused of killing an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, a city west of Bahgdad. Criminal charges have been filed in the case.

April 26, 2006: Seven Marines and a Navy medic patrol Hamdania, a city west of Baghdad, for a suspected insurgent. They do not find him and instead, allegedly enter a nearby house, remove an Iraqi man, take him away and shoot him. They allegedly leave a shovel and an AK-47 assault rifle to make it look like the man was an insurgent.

May 1, 2006: Local Iraqis bring the April 26 incident in Hamdania to the attention of Marine leadership at a regularly scheduled meeting. A preliminary investigation finds that sufficient information exists to recommend a criminal investigation.

May 24, 2006: The commanding general of the Marines in Western Iraq, Richard Zilmer, requests the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) proceeds with a criminal investigation into Hamdania.

June 21, 2006: Seven Marines and a Navy medic are charged with murder in the April 26 incident in Hamdania. All eight also are charged with kidnapping, conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements. The eight men are attached to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton in California.

Aug. 30, 2006: Article 32 hearings at Camp Pendleton, Calif., begin for two Marines, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Jr., and Pfc. John Jodka III. They are among seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman who are charged with murder and kidnapping in the death of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania. 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. Other hearings are scheduled through October.

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