The U.S. Army has charged three soldiers in connection with the murders of three Iraqi men who were in military custody in Iraq in early May, the military said Monday.
The Multinational Corps-Iraq said three members of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division have been charged in connection with the deaths of three male detainees during an operation near Thar Thar Canal in southern Salahuddin province on May 9.
"A non-commissioned officer and two Soldiers each have been charged with violating several articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat, and obstructing justice," an announcement said.
It added that "on the day the alleged murders occurred, the unit commander ordered an inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three detainees."
It said that a Criminal Investigation Command investigation began on May 17 and "is ongoing."
"The soldiers are currently in pre-trial confinement awaiting an Article 32 hearing to determine if sufficient evidence exists for the case to be referred to court-martial," the announcement said
Once charged, defendants have the right to an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.
Last week, the U.S. Army announced that it had opened a criminal investigation into the suspicious deaths of three men in military custody in Iraq.
The investigation was requested by Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq.
Chiarelli's request and the decision to open the probe were announced Thursday in an e-mail from Baghdad. Chiarelli acted on the basis of suspicions raised by soldiers about the deaths.
To date, there have been about 600 investigations into detainee-related incidents, including natural deaths and detainee assaults on other detainees, according to Army spokesman Paul Boyce. As a result, he said, 267 soldiers have received some type of punishment, including 85 courts-martial and 95 non-judicial actions.
Two Pentagon reports,, said murky procedures, lack of oversight and inadequate resources led to mistakes in the way U.S. troops treated Iraq and Afghanistan detainees, but they found no widespread mistreatment or illegal actions by the military.
The Bush administration has been criticized internationally, including by U.S. allies, for abusive treatment of terror war detainees. Late last year, Congress forced Bush to accept a ban on the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops.
Administration officials have said the U.S. uses legal interrogation techniques - not torture - to gain information that could head off terror attacks.