WASHINGTON —Three soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division have been charged with murder in connection with the deaths of three Iraqi detainees in their custody last month, the U.S. military said Monday.
The sergeant and two lower-ranking soldiers with the division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team from Fort Campbell, Ky., also have been charged with attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat and obstructing justice. The three detainees died May 9 during an operation near Thar Thar Canal in southern Salah ad Din province, U.S. Central Command said.
The soldiers charged are Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett. They are assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment.
They're being held awaiting a hearing to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a court-martial. A criminal investigation, which began May 17, is under way.
The case is one of three active investigations into allegations that American troops have killed Iraqis under unlawful circumstances.
The military said the three soldiers' commanding officer had ordered an inquiry the day the killings occurred. The military previously said the inquiry had been initiated after another soldier reported his suspicions about the deaths of the three prisoners.
According to the charge sheets in the case, the three soldiers conspired to commit premeditated murder by shooting the three detainees near the Muthana Chemical Complex.
The next day, Girouard allegedly told Pfc. Bradley L. Mason, who witnessed the shootings, "I will kill you if you tell anyone" and "you better not talk or I will kill you." The charge documents allege that Hunsaker and Clagett also threatened to kill Mason if he disclosed anything.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team is based at Tikrit, near the hometown of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Salah ad Din province, north of Baghdad, lies within the so-called "Sunni Triangle" of central and western Iraq, where most of the fighting between insurgents and U.S. troops has occurred.
The announcement came three days after the American military command in Iraq said Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the senior ground forces commander in Iraq, had received the conclusions of a probe into whether troops with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and their commanders had tried to cover up the circumstances in which 24 Iraqi civilians died in Haditha, in western Iraq.
The report, by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, examined how Marines reported the circumstances of the Nov. 19 killings, the type of training they'd received before the killings and the command atmosphere within their unit. It has not been made public.
The Marines initially reported that a remote-controlled bomb had killed one Marine and 15 civilians and that eight insurgents had died in a subsequent firefight. A criminal inquiry later found that the Marines had shot and killed the civilians in several houses. No charges have been filed, and the investigation is continuing.
A group of 12 Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, is under investigation for allegedly killing an Iraqi farmer April 26 in Hamdania, also west of Baghdad.
The Marines reported that they killed the man after they saw him digging a hole for a bomb, but his family charges the Marines shot him and planted an AK-47 rifle and a shovel near his body to make him look like an insurgent. Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman have been jailed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.