U.S. Aims To Lure Insurgents With 'Bait'

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By Josh White and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 24, 2007

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces."

In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the "drop items" to be used "to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight."

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined "quite meticulously" because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.

"In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back," Fidell said.

Soldiers said that about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that numerous others knew about the "drop items" but did not know their purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a sniper mission, according to the documents.

Army officials declined to discuss the classified program, details of which appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an ammunition can at the sniper unit's base.

"We don't discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."

It is unclear whether the program reached elsewhere in Iraq and how many people were killed through the baiting tactics.

Members of the sniper platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses. The sniper unit -- dubbed "the painted demons" because of the use of tiger-stripe face paint -- often went on missions into hostile areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons caches.

"It's our job out here to lay people down who are doing bad things," Spec. Joshua L. Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit's numerous casualties. "I don't want to call it revenge, but we needed to find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and still maintain the right military things to do."


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