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Marines Charged in Death of Captive

October 19, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — Two Marines here face charges of negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi prisoner who was left alone with other prisoners in Iraq after being interrogated, Marine officials said Saturday.

Six other Marines are charged with hitting and kicking prisoners and then lying about their behavior to military investigators.

Maj. Clark A. Paulus and Lance Cpl. Christian Hernandez are charged with negligent homicide in the death of a 52-year-old Iraqi prisoner who was found dead in June at a prisoner camp run by the 1st Marine Division near the central Iraqi town of Nasiriyah.

The prisoner reportedly was left alone with other prisoners after being interrogated by U.S. military and intelligence-agency personnel and was later found dead.

Officials say Paulus and Hernandez should have known that the prisoner might be killed by his own countrymen unless he was given special protection.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 25, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Marines -- An article in Sunday's California section about two Marines charged in the death of an Iraqi prisoner misspelled as Worchester the name of the city where the 25th Marine Regiment is based. The Massachusetts city is Worcester.

All of the Marines are from the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, a highly praised reserve infantry unit with headquarters in Worchester, Mass. About 100 of the 900 members of the battalion work as firefighters, police officers or emergency medical personnel in their civilian lives.

Though the rest of the Marines assigned to the battalion have returned home, the eight are being kept on active duty at Camp Pendleton awaiting court proceedings.

"My client is a Marine, and like all Marines, is a ... good combat soldier," said attorney Donald Rehkopf Jr., who represents Lance Cpl. William S. Roy, who is accused of hitting and kicking several prisoners. "My client denies the charges against him, and we will vigorously defend them in court."

Rehkopf, of Rochester, N.Y., co-chairman of the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Military Law Committee, blamed the military for not providing training to the Marines on how to handle prisoners.

"In the rush to war with Iraq, providing the mandatory training to reservists seems to have had little if any priority with the Pentagon," Rehkopf said. Roy, 34, is a sheriff's deputy in central New York.

A Marine Corps spokesman released a list of names of those accused and their charges but declined to comment further.

The treatment of prisoners by U.S. and British military personnel is a controversial issue as the U.S. and its coalition partners attempt to convince the Iraqi public that they should be seen as liberators, not conquerors.

The Army is still investigating the treatment of prisoners by U.S. soldiers. The Marine Corps cleared an enlisted man in the March 29 shooting death of a prisoner after officials decided the Marine had acted in self-defense.

Two British soldiers were sent home after being accused of beating up prisoners. A member of Britain's famed "Desert Rat" battalion is being investigated after authorities found "torture photos" that allegedly showed prisoners being mistreated.

But a Belgian court has ruled that a suit filed by a group of Iraqis against now-retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq during the war, should be dropped. The suit accused him of war crimes, including allowing maltreatment of prisoners and civilians.

About 2,000 prisoners are held at the Whitehorse detention facility near Nasiriyah. Some are former Iraqi soldiers, some are former Iraqi government or Baathist party officials, and some are Iraqi mercenaries, paramilitary fighters or so-called Saddam fedayeen loyalists.

When the Iraqi prisoner was found dead at the camp near Nasiriyah, the U.S. Central Command took the unusual step of announcing that a criminal investigation had been launched by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.

"The Iraqis are looking at us very closely and are very quick to criticize," said retired Marine Col. Fred Peck. "It's important for us to treat the people in our custody humanely and with respect. The Marine Corps is very strict about these things and won't tolerate any kind of mistreatment."

The prisoner had been captured May 3 and sent to Nasiriyah on June 3. Two days later, he complained of being sick and was suffering from diarrhea; he was found dead the next day in a common area open to all prisoners.

No cause of death has been announced. Officials have declined to say whether the man was a soldier or a government official, although they said he was not among the top 50 officials being sought.

Beyond the effect on the Iraqi public, the incident also could be a black eye for the Marine Corps because it involves reservists. Marine Corps officials have praised the competence of reserve units called for duty in Iraq and suggested that reserve units will play a major role in future operations.

With companies in Garden City, N.Y.; Albany, N.Y.; and Dover, N.J.; the 2nd Battalion, 25th Regiment served in the Persian Gulf War. It was activated in January and deployed to Kuwait as part of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division.

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