Hamdania Hearings Begin for Two Marines

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At Camp Pendleton, military hearings begin for two Marines now in the brig for allegedly kidnapping and killing an Iraqi civilian last spring. They are among a group known as the "Pendleton Eight," who are charged with the crimes that could result in the death penalty.


At Camp Pendleton in Southern California today, military prosecutors started laying out their case against seven Marines and a Navy Corpsman. The men are charged with kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi man in April. Prosecutors say the victim was dragged from his home and shot in the village of Hamdiniya outside Baghdad. Today the military held hearings for two of the defendants to decide whether they should face courts marshal. NPR's John McChesney joins us from Camp Pendleton, and John, tell us about these first two hearings today.

JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:

Well, these are the first of the eight Article 32 hearings, Melissa. These hearings are sort of the equivalent of a grand jury investigation in civilian jurisprudence, and today's involved Private First Class John Jodka and Corporal Marshall Magincalda. They're charged with the murder of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad on April 26 in the village of Hamdiniya, which is a Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad.

The story that has emerged is based partly on Iraqi witnesses. They allege that these men were in Hamdiniya looking for an insurgent. They didn't find him in the house they searched, so they broke into Awad's house, bound him, dragged him out of the house, short him 14 times, put him in a hole, stole a shovel and an AK-47 rifle, and put them in the hole with Awad and later said he was planting a bomb when they shot him. They're also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, housebreaking and theft, and could face the death penalty.

BLOCK: Well, what do defense lawyers say?

McCHESNEY: The defense lawyers in this case have been pretty aggressive. They're saying that the prosecutors have convicted these men before their day in court. They've said that the confessions gathered from the Marines were coerced. And some defense lawyers have suggested that the Iraqis, who had brought the case to light, were really angling for money from the military. Jodka's attorney, Joseph Casas, says his client was participating in a legitimate command-sanctioned ambush.

BLOCK: John, how do these military hearings work?

McCHESNEY: Well, the way they worked today was not very well for the media. It's been a day of frustration here. There were two simultaneous hearings: one on closed-circuit television, the other not. The televised hearing was almost over before it began. The defense said it wasn't going to bring any witnesses, the prosecution said it wasn't going to bring any witnesses, and the judge said okay, I'll look at the evidence that you submitted, and if I have any questions I'll call you back. The other non-televised hearing went ahead, and we weren't there except for one pool reporter.

The way they work is they bring in the investigators, and the investigators read from the statements that the participants have given, and they also read from other things that they have found, and the investigating officer decides whether they should go to court martial or not. The attorneys in the Jodka case today tried to suppress evidence, saying it was too inflammatory to be read by investigators in court, and it would pollute any prospective jurors.

BLOCK: If this does go forward to court martial, what do you know about the evidence the prosecutors are planning to use then?

McCHESNEY: Well, they're planning to use, you know, the statements of Iraqi witnesses, they're planning to use the statements given by these men earlier that the defense lawyers say were coerced, and they're also planning to use a video that was made by one of the participants, which apparently does in fact make the statement that they had done something wrong and that they had killed this man. Reporters here, by the way, are petitioning the Marines to move that Jodka hearing to the courtroom where closed-circuit television is set up, but we haven't gotten any response so far, so I don't know whether we'll get first-hand accounts or not.

BLOCK: Okay, and six more hearings to come. John, thanks very much. NPR's John McChesney reporting from Camp Pendleton, California.

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