[JURIST] A US Army soldier has said that the deaths of three Iraqi detainees in Samarra on May 9 were deliberate murders covered-up by his squad of the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], according to Friday's New York Times. The Times obtained a sworn statement by Sgt. Lemuel Lemus given June 15, in which he admitted failing to stop his comrades from killing the detainees because he feared his fellow soldiers would label him a coward. Four men - Sergeant Raymond Girouard, Specialist William Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey Clagett and Specialist Juston Graber - have now been charged with premeditated murder [JURIST report] in relation to the May 9 deaths, and await an Article 32 [JAG backgrounder; USMJ text] hearing next week.
The soldiers originally agreed that the captured detainees had broken free during a morning raid, and were shot while trying to escape and attack the squad. Lemus' account, however, depicts purposeful murder and even alleges that Squad Leader Girouard cut Hunsaker to enhance the legitimacy of their account. Lemus, who has not been charged, says he remained outside during the incident and that he reported several statements from other squad members describing the incident, despite death threats from Girouard. Lawyers for Clagett and Hunsaker dispute Lemus' account, and claim that Colonel Michael Steele, the well-known brigade commander that led a botched 1993 mission in Somalia depicted in the book and movie Black Hawk Down [Wikipedia backgrounder], ordered the soldiers to kill all military-age men prior to the raid. Steele has indicated that he will refuse to testify at Tuesday's Article 32 hearing, which one military justice scholar said was unusual at any court-martial stage. The New York Times has more.