Soldiers Charged in Iraqi Deaths

Iraqi kids stand by their damaged house in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City Saturday, June 30, 2007. U.S. soldiers killed 26 suspected insurgents before dawn Saturday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, the military said. Iraqi police and hospital officials said the victims were civilians killed in their homes. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) (Karim Kadim - AP)
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 1, 2007

BAGHDAD, June 30 -- Two American soldiers were charged with the premeditated murders of three Iraqis in separate incidents south of Baghdad over the past three months, the U.S. military said Saturday.

Army Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley of Candler, N.C., was charged with three counts of premeditated murder, obstruction of justice and wrongfully placing weapons next to the victims' bodies.

Spec. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr. of Laredo, Tex., was charged with premeditated murder and planting a weapon.

Both soldiers, assigned to the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, are being held in Kuwait until trial.

The killings took place near Iskandariyah, which is in the Sunni insurgent territory south of Baghdad where U.S. soldiers committed one of the most notorious atrocities of the war. In March 2006, soldiers raped and killed a 14-year-old girl and killed her family in the town of Mahmudiyah. Two soldiers have been convicted in the case, and three are awaiting trial.

Soldiers have been charged in previous incidents for attempting to cover up killings by planting weapons next to slain Iraqis to portray them as insurgents. In April 2006, seven U.S. Marines and a Navy medic were accused of taking part in the killing of a 52-year-old Iraqi man in Anbar province that involved putting him in a bomb crater along with a rifle and a shovel. Several servicemen have pleaded guilty in the case.

U.S. military officials said in a statement that the charges against Hensley and Sandoval were "merely an accusation of wrongdoing" and that they are "presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any alleged offense."

In a separate case, Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Ramsdell of the 411th Engineer Brigade was convicted of violating military rules by possessing alcohol and pornography, having an "inappropriate relationship" with a female soldier in his unit and maltreating a soldier, the U.S. military said. He was sentenced to four months in prison and demoted.

The charges were announced on a day when U.S. soldiers clashed with residents of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite district of eastern Baghdad. The U.S. military said in a statement that shooting started before dawn after troops raided a house believed to be used by a militant network that has ties to Iran and is involved in terrorist activities. The soldiers encountered roadside bombs, fierce gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, and killed about 26 suspected militants and detained 17, the military said.

Residents in the area and officials linked to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is prevalent in the district, disputed the U.S. account and said the American soldiers killed innocent civilians.

Salah al-Ubaidi, a Sadr spokesman in the southern city of Najaf, said that U.S. bombings killed four members of a family, including women, and that 16 young men were killed in Sadr City.

"There were no clashes between the Mahdi army and occupation forces," he said. "We are condemning this attack, which targeted the innocent people in their homes, and we are calling on the government to open an investigation with the occupation forces to find out what happened."

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