Soldier Accused of Detainee Killings to Testify
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A U.S. soldier is expected to testify in his own defense today, at his court-martial for the killing of three Iraqi detainees last spring. Raymond Girouard is accused of planning the shootings and the alleged cover-up that followed. The 24-year-old denies the charges. Over the last few days, he's seen a parade of his former squadmates and friends tag him as the ringleader of the plot.
NPR's Audie Cornish has more from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
(Soundbite of song, "When a Soldier Makes it Home")
Mr. ARLO GUTHRIE (Singer): (Singing) Halfway around the world tonight in a strange and foreign land.
AUDIE CORNISH: On Raymond Girouard's camo-covered MySpace page, he writes that he and his men are innocent, while an Arlo Guthrie song plays in the background. But nearly half a dozen infantrymen, who were there the day of the shootings last May, have taken the stand to say otherwise.
Girouard's civilian defense attorney, Anita Gorecki, describes it best.
Ms. ANITA GORECKI (Defense Attorney for Raymond Girouard): It's a matter of almost a classic he said, he said, he said.
CORNISH: Army prosecutors presented poster-sized photos taken by military photographers the day of the shooting. In one set of images, the detainees are alive facing the camera with their hands bound behind them. Another set shows a grisly scene with those same detainees in a bloody pile, their blindfolds askew.
The question is whether Girouard instructed his men to kill the captured, and whether he helped them orchestrate a cover-up. Some say they thought Girouard may have been joking when he allegedly called them together to discuss the plan.
Others, like the two shooters, Privates William Hunsaker and Corey Clagett, say they thought he was giving dead serious instruction. The pair are a study in opposites, Hunsaker chin up and shoulders back testified he feels no remorse for shooting detainees but was tired of lying about it. And entered into a plea deal because he didn't want to spend a lifetime in jail for, quote, "killing three terrorists."
Meanwhile, a teary-eyed and red-faced Corey Clagett said the Army was like one big street gang, and the way Staff Sergeant Girouard ran his squad, killing the detainees would be like an initiation. Private Hunsaker also testified that Girouard later cut him with the knife, saying that they had to make it look good.
Military prosecutors will not comment on the ongoing trial. But in court, Captain William Fischbach said the soldiers are bound to tell the truth, or see their plea deals revoked. Girouard's attorney, Anita Gorecki, says their best defense against this avalanche of accusations is understanding the ROE, or the Rules of Engagement, the men had that day.
Ms. GORECKI: IEDs are going off. There's a lot of adrenaline. They're told they're going to be shot at by hostile fire - and yet, they have to intellectually understand the concept of ROE and how to use it, the laws of war, the Geneva Convention. I believe it's an unbelievable amount of pressure. I don't think, as Americans, we quite understand just how much we are putting on young people.
CORNISH: In a war fought house-to-house, where soldiers like Girouard are accused of carrying weapons to plant on the victims of their mistakes, Gorecki says her best evidence will be the testimony from Girouard himself. He is facing multiple counts of premeditated murder, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. And if convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life without parole.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
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