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

Within months of the program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate. Though it does not appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have opened the door to the soldiers' actions because it blurred the legal lines of killing in a complex war zone.

James D. Culp, a civilian attorney for one of the snipers, Sgt. Evan Vela, said the soldiers became "battle-fatigued pawns in a newfangled concept of 'baiting' warfare that, like an onion, perhaps looked good on the surface, but started stinking to high hell the minute the layers were pulled back and scrutinized."

Spec. Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are accused by the military of placing a spool of wire into the pocket of an Iraqi man Sandoval had shot on April 27 on Hensley's order. The man had been cutting grass with a rusty sickle when he was shot, according to court documents.

The military alleges that the killing of the man carrying the sickle was inappropriate. Hensley and Sandoval have been charged with murder and with planting evidence.

As Sandoval and Hensley approached the corpse, according to testimony and court documents, they allegedly placed a spool of wire, often used by insurgents to detonate roadside bombs, into the man's pocket in an attempt to make the case for the kill ironclad.

One soldier who came forward with the allegations, Pfc. David C. Petta, told the same court that he believed the classified items were for dropping on people the unit had killed, "to enforce if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but we didn't have the evidence to show for it." Petta had not been officially briefed about the program.

Two weeks after that killing, Sandoval and his sniper team stopped for the night in a concealed "hide" in the village of Jurf as Sakhr along the Euphrates River. While other snipers slept, Hensley watched as an Iraqi man, Genei Nesir Khudair, slowly approached the hide. He radioed to Didier, then a first lieutenant, for permission to go for a "close kill."

"I told him that as the ground forces commander, I would authorize that if it was necessary," Didier testified. "And about five minutes later, he told me that he had indeed killed the individual."

The U.S. military alleges that Vela, on Hensley's order, shot the Iraqi man twice in the head with a 9mm pistol after he had been taken into custody. It was Vela's first kill, and he was visibly shaken. "He looked weird," Sgt. Robert Redfern testified. "Just messed up from it. How would you feel if you had to shoot someone?"

At the time the two shots rang out, Sandoval was on guard duty about 20 meters away, out of sight of Vela, inside a broken-down pump house along the Euphrates River, soldiers testified.

Vela and Hensley told investigators that the man had an AK-47 with him and that he posed a threat, but other soldiers have alleged that the AK-47 was planted next to Khudair after he was shot.

Hensley's attorney could not be reached to comment. Sandoval's attorney, Capt. Craig Drummond, thinks his client is innocent in both deaths.

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