A Navy medic pleaded guilty to conspiracy and kidnapping in Iraq at a court martial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Friday. He and seven Marines were accused of abducting and killing an Iraqi civilian in April in the town of Hamdania.
The murder charge against Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson Bacos was dropped when he agreed to testify against the others. Bacos was sentenced to 10 years for the crime, but will only serve one year because of his plea agreement.
The slight, soft spoken Bacos told Judge Steven Folsom a chilling tale of cold blooded, premeditated murder during his court martial.
Bacos said the eight men were out on a night ambush patrol when, near dawn, they huddled and planned the death of a known insurgent. The man had been detained and released three times, angering squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins.
According to Bacos, all the men said they agreed to roust the man and kill him, making it look as if he were planting a bomb. But they also had a contingency plan. They would find and kill another man if they couldn't locate the insurgent. The insurgent was not where they expected him to be, so the Americans went next door and seized Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, father of 11 children.
They took him to a roadside hole, bound him, and, Bacos testified, Sgt. Hutchins fired three rounds into Awad's head. Then Corp. Trent Thomas shot Awad in the chest seven to 10 times.
At one point Bacos said he told them they should let Awad go, but another of the accused insulted his manhood and said he should stop complaining. He did, and says he later fired a stolen AK-47 rifle into the air to provide background noise as Hutchins radioed in to command to say Awad was firing on them.
In his statement to the judge, Bacos said, "Why didn't I just walk away? Because I wanted to be part of the team." To reporters outside the courtroom, Bacos repeated some of his comments to the judge.
In their closing argument, government prosecutors were not in a forgiving mood. They showed pictures of Awad's 11 children. But their pretrial agreement stipulated that Bacos would only serve less than twelve months.
Given Bacos' testimony, some observers expect that more of the defendents in the case will seek a plea bargain. The rest of the accused are scheduled for arraignment, or pretrial hearings, over the coming weeks.