Demonstrators Support Charged Marines The preliminary hearing for eight servicemen charged with killing an unarmed Iraqi in Hamdania has been postponed for several weeks. Meanwhile, many U.S. civilians are voicing support for the Marines and Navy Corpsman. Some are holding weekly demonstrations outside Camp Pendleton. For historian Michal Belknap, this has echoes of the My Lai episode, when both supporters and opponents of the Vietnam War rallied behind William Calley, for very different reasons.
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Demonstrators Support Charged Marines

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Demonstrators Support Charged Marines

Demonstrators Support Charged Marines

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Turning now to one of the other investigations into the killing of Iraqi civilians. Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are locked in the brig at Camp Pendleton. They're accused of killing an unarmed man in the town of Hamdaniya.

A hearing for the men has been postponed for several weeks and, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, they're attracting broad public support.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

The calls to Jeremiah Sullivan's office started almost immediately, as soon as the San Diego attorney was hired as defense counsel for one of the Hamdaniya suspects.

Mr. JEREMIAH SULLIVAN (Defense counsel): My office phone hasn't stopped ringing. I've received calls from as far as Florida, Mississippi, people saying we care, we're behind you, and I believe that's the vast part of America is behind our troops and behind our clients.

HORSLEY: Sullivan represents Navy corpsman Nelson Backos(ph). He and his Marine squad mates are accused of dragging an unarmed Iraqi from his home, shooting him, then planting an assault weapon in his hands.

Sullivan has promised a vigorous defense of Backos. He says the 20-year-old medic joined the service fresh out of high school and was on his second tour in Iraq when the Hamdaniya killing took place.

Mr. SULLIVAN: You know when most kids are looking for a job or starting college, he's off throwing lead down range and being shot at and watching his friends die. During his first combat tour, 19 honorable Marines were killed in action. Two Marines died in my client's arms.

HORSLEY: The hazardous conditions in Iraq were on the minds of many who attended a rally for the serviceman outside Camp Pendleton where they're being held. Supporters have been gathering at the camp's main gate for the last three Saturdays and their numbers are growing with each passing week.

Roxanne Brodnick(ph) waved a sign at passing motorists declaring the accused serviceman innocent, no matter what.

Ms. ROXANNE BRODNICK (Protestor): My son is over in Iraq right now and I would hate to think that he would hesitate to shoot. No matter what these guys did to survive this war, I just hope they can survive our justice system.

HORSLEY: Joe Snodgrass stood marveling at the crowd while holding a photograph of his marine grandson. PFC John Jodka is one of the eight charged in the Hamdaniya case. Snodgrass says public support means a lot of Jodka and his fellow prisoners.

Mr. JOE SNODGRASS (Private Jodka's grandfather): And I bet for every one person that's standing on this line, there's 1,000 people out there that are, because they live in Connecticut or New York or Tupelo, Mississippi, or wherever they live, they can't be here. So, I think there's a lot of support here.

HORSLEY: Another demonstrator offered Snodgrass a baseball cap for his grandson. It was stamped with the name of talk radio host Michael Savage, who's actively promoting these rallies and defending the accused marines.

None of this support is surprising to San Diego historian and law professor Michal Belknap. He wrote a book about the Vietnam era trial of William Calley, who was convicted of killing 22 civilians in the village of My Lai.

Mr. MICHAL BELKNAP (California Western School of Law): There were very similar rallies back at the time of the Calley court marshal, so it really, it's a sort of almost eerie replay of something that happened more than 30 years ago.

HORSLEY: Belknap, who was an Army lieutenant during Vietnam, says Calley enjoyed widespread support not only from hawks, but also from doves. While many supporters of the Vietnam War felt Calley was a patriot who'd done nothing wrong, anti-war activists also came to his defense because they felt the lieutenant was a scapegoat.

Mr. BELKANP: Their basic belief was that the whole world was wrong, that people very high up in the chain of command and very high up in the government were responsible for what had happened and that this little guy was taking the blame.

HORSLEY: Three and a half decades later, Belknap sees the same mixture of motives behind support for the Hamdaniya suspects. Unlike the long cover-up that followed My Lai, however, charges in this case came relatively quickly. A preliminary hearing is expected later this summer.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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