By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Three U.S. soldiers have been charged with killing four captured Iraqis who were allegedly taken to a canal near Baghdad last year and shot in retaliation for American casualties, according to an Army statement yesterday and earlier testimony in the case.
The Army said Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., who were part of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd "Dagger" Brigade, based in Germany, were charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.
Four other soldiers from the unit -- Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, Sgt. Charles Quigley, Spec. Stephen Ribordy and Spec. Belmor Ramos -- were charged earlier with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. The Iraqis were killed in March or April 2007, according to the Army statement. The incident first surfaced in January when one of the four soldiers approached an Army lawyer.
Cunningham and Quigley appeared at a preliminary hearing in August in Germany, and an Army criminal investigator testified that Cunningham first provided an account of the incident to an Army lawyer. "He was tired of holding it back," the investigator testified, according to a report in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The killings took place after a gun battle with insurgents.
In a statement, Cunningham identified the shooters and named 14 soldiers who were in the area when the killings occurred, according to testimony at the August hearing. Attorneys for Cunningham and Quigley said the two were some distance from the site of the killings.
After the shootings, Hatley allegedly told soldiers in the unit not to talk about what had happened, according to witness testimony. And the soldiers maintained silence until Cunningham came forward in January.
Hatley and Leahy have also been charged with one count each of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in a death near Baghdad in January 2007. The Army statement provided no details about that killing except to describe it as a separate incident. Leahy was also charged with being an accessory after the fact.