Navy Medic: Marines Killed Civilian

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, front, is escorted into his court-martial hearing by his defense attorney, Navy Lt. Jonathan Stephens, at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Calif., Friday, Oct. 6, 2006.
AP
A Navy corpsman testified at his court-martial Friday that he watched as Marines shot an Iraqi civilian in the head after taking him from his home in the western town of Hamdania.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, 21, said he saw two Marines fire at least 10 rounds into 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Seven Marines and Bacos, a medic who had been on patrol with them that day, are charged in Awad's April 26th death. Bacos was the first to go to a court-martial. On Friday morning, he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy under a deal in which other charges were dropped and Bacos agreed to testify about what he saw.

Bacos testified that he asked the Marines to let Awad go, but he said Marine Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda told him he was being weak and should stop protesting.

"I witnessed Sgt. (Lawrence) Hutchins dead check the man and fire three rounds into the man's head," Bacos testified. "Then Cpl. (Trent) Thomas fired seven to 10 rounds in to the man's head."

In return for his testimony, other counts of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy against Bacos were to be dropped, his civilian lawyer said before Friday's proceedings.

Bacos said "yes sir" when asked by Col. Steven Folsom, who presided over the hearing, if he agreed with the pleas.

According to charging documents, the troops had entered Hamdania searching for an insurgent and, failing to find him, grabbed Awad from his home and shot him. An AK-47 and a shovel were left by Awad's body, apparently to make it look like the man had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb and was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

Bacos, a medic on patrol with the Marines, was accused of firing the AK-47 into the air as part of the cover-up.

Military prosecutors had charged him under the theory that he did nothing to stop the alleged crime.

Bacos' testimony would mark a sudden change in the case, but not necessarily a surprise.

All eight were charged with crimes including murder and kidnapping.

Bacos was recently transferred from Camp Pendleton, where the Marines have been held, to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for his own safety.

David Brahms, a defense attorney for one of the accused Marines, said Bacos will be subjected to intense cross-examination.

"This is just one guy who is going to tell the story as he sees it," Brahms said.

Former Army prosecutor Tom Umberg suggested that others might follow Bacos' lead and strike similar plea deals.

"You don't want to be the last guy standing. The first guy gets the best deal," he said.

In other developments:

  • Guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice, a Marine sergeant said in a sworn statement. The two-page statement was sent Wednesday to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense by a high-ranking Marine Corps defense lawyer.

  • In Iraq, about 4,000 Iraqi police have been killed and more than 8,000 injured over the past two years, the U.S. commander in charge of the police training said Friday. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson also said that it is hard to tell how many militia members have infiltrated the police forces, but said Iraqi officials are trying to weed them out. Noting the more than 12,000 police casualties since September 2004, he said there are many police who are loyal to the country and "they've paid a great price."

  • The White House is disagreeing — politely — with a top GOP senator who says Iraq is "drifting sideways." Virginia's John Warner, who heads the Armed Services Committee, came back from his latest visit with a grim assessment of the situation there. But Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says President Bush's view is that "slow progress is being made," though he acknowledges it's tough going.

  • With violence bloodying Iraq, Kurds in the peaceful north have been showing signs of going their own way, raising their own flag and even dropping veiled hints of secession if Baghdad doesn't recognize their rights in their region's oil wealth.

  • Convinced oil revenue is the long-term key to economic independence for a unified Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed Friday for cooperation from the autonomous and oil rich Kurdish north. Rice visited the region's powerful president, Massoud Barzani, less than two weeks after the regional government threatened to break away from Iraq in a dispute over oil.

  • Iraqi authorities on Wednesday pulled a brigade of about 700 policemen out of service in their biggest move ever to uproot troops linked to death squads. The brigade is suspected of allowing gunmen to kidnap 24 workers from a frozen food factory in a district of Baghdad where the Shiite Mahdi Army militia is known to have considerable power.