TORONTO, Dec. 7 -- A former U.S. Marine staff sergeant testified at a hearing Tuesday that his unit killed at least 30 unarmed civilians in Iraq during the war in 2003 and that Marines routinely shot and killed wounded Iraqis.
Jimmy J. Massey, a 12-year veteran, said he left Iraq in May 2003 after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. He said he and his men shot and killed four Iraqis staging a demonstration and a man with his hands up trying to surrender, as well as women and children at roadblocks. Massey said he had complained to his superiors about the "killing of innocent civilians," but that nothing was done.
Massey, 33, of Waynesville, N.C., was the chief witness at a refugee board hearing for a U.S. Army deserter, Jeremy Hinzman, who is attempting to win asylum in Canada after he fled from Fort Bragg, N.C., rather than go to Iraq. Hinzman, 25, the first of at least three U.S. military deserters to apply for asylum here, argues that he refused to go to Iraq to avoid committing war crimes.
In Washington, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon said Massey's charges had been investigated and were unproved.
"We take such allegations very seriously," said Maj. Douglas Powell. "And Jimmy Massey, who is a former staff sergeant, out of the Corps, has made these statements before in the press. They've been looked into, and nothing has been substantiated."
Massey is a former Marine recruiter who served in Iraq as the staff sergeant for a platoon that ranged from 25 to 50 men. He testified that the killings occurred in late March or early April 2003 as his unit, the weapons company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, moved northward to Baghdad and then beyond.
During one 48-hour period, Massey said under oath, his platoon set up roadblocks and killed "30-plus" civilians. He said his men, fearing suicide bombers, poured massive firepower into cars that did not stop as they approached the roadblocks. In each instance, he said, none of the cars was found to have contained explosives or arms.
"Why didn't the Iraqis stop? That is something that has plagued me every waking moment of the day," he said. He said they may have been confused by the Americans' gestures or thought that a warning shot was celebratory gunfire.
"I don't know if the Iraqi people thought we were celebrating their newfound freedom. But I do know we killed innocent civilians," Massey said. In one case, the driver of a car leaped out with his hands up. "But we kept firing. We killed him," Massey said. In another case, he and other Marines shot and killed four protesters near a checkpoint after a single incoming gunshot from an unknown source, he said. None of the protesters was found with arms.
The testimony of Massey, who was honorably discharged six months after his medical evacuation from Iraq, is the main surviving thrust of the strategy by Hinzman's attorney to put the Iraq war on trial at the refugee hearing. The asylum bids by Hinzman and two other servicemen are a dilemma for the Canadian government, which is seeking to repair relations with the Bush administration. Canada refused to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the war remains highly unpopular in Canada.
The government won a ruling that the legality of the Iraq war could not be an issue at the refugee hearing. But Hinzman's attorney, Jeffry House, has introduced testimonials and human rights reports to support Hinzman's claim that he would have been forced to violate the Geneva Conventions in Iraq.
Some of Hinzman's supporters, including House, are Vietnam-era draft dodgers. They compare Massey's testimony to the disclosure of the My Lai massacre of civilians in Vietnam.
Hinzman, who served a tour in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, had applied for a transfer to a noncombat position in the Army. When that was rejected and his division was ordered to Iraq, Hinzman drove from Fort Bragg to Canada in January with his wife and infant son.
The family is living in a basement apartment in Toronto while their request is heard. If it is rejected, Hinzman has said, they expect to file appeals in the Canadian courts.
Staff writer Christopher Lee in Washington contributed to this report.