Sergeant Tells of Plot to Kill Iraqi Detainees
ROBERT F. WORTH
New York Times
July 28, 2006
- For more than a month after the killings, Sgt. Lemuel Lemus stuck to
"Proper escalation of force was used," he told an investigator,
describing how members of his unit shot and killed three Iraqi
prisoners who had lashed out at their captors and tried to escape
after a raid northwest of Baghdad on May 9.
Then, on June 15, Sergeant Lemus offered a new and much darker account.
In a lengthy sworn statement, he said he had witnessed a deliberate
plot by his fellow soldiers to kill the three handcuffed Iraqis and a
cover-up in which one soldier cut another to bolster their story. The
squad leader threatened to kill anyone who talked. Later, one
guilt-stricken soldier complained of nightmares and "couldn't stop
talking" about what happened, Sergeant Lemus said.
As with similar cases being investigated in Iraq, Sergeant Lemus's
narrative has raised questions about the rules under which American
troops operate and the possible culpability of commanders. Four
soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder in the case.
Lawyers for two of them, who dispute Sergeant Lemus's account, say the
soldiers were given an order by a decorated colonel on the day in
question to "kill all military-age men" they encountered.
Many questions remain about the case, which is scheduled for an
Article 32 hearing on Tuesday in Iraq. But whatever the truth about
that day, Sergeant Lemus's sworn statement which was obtained by The
New York Times provides an extraordinary window into the pressures
American soldiers face in Iraq, where wartime chaos and the imperative
of loyalty often complicate questions of right and wrong.
When investigators asked why he did not try to stop the other soldiers
from carrying out the killings, Sergeant Lemus who has not been
charged in the case said simply that he was afraid of being called a
coward. He stayed quiet, he said, because of "peer pressure, and I
have to be loyal to the squad."
The mission that led to the killings started at dawn on May 9, when
soldiers with the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne
Division landed in a remote area near a former chemical plant not far
from Samarra, according to legal documents and lawyers for the accused
soldiers. It was the site of a suspected insurgent training camp and
was considered extremely dangerous.
Just before leaving, the soldiers had been given an order to "kill all
military-age men" at the site by a colonel and a captain, said Paul
Bergrin and Michael Waddington, the lawyers who are disputing Sergeant
Lemus's account. Military officials in Baghdad have declined to
comment on whether such an order, which would have been a violation of
the law of war, might have been given.
The colonel, Michael Steele, is the brigade commander. He led the 1993
mission in Somalia made famous by the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
The two lawyers say Colonel Steele has indicated that he will not
testify at the Article 32 hearing the military equivalent of a grand
jury hearing or answer any questions about the case. Calls and
e-mail messages to a civilian lawyer said to be representing Colonel
Steele were not returned.
It is very rare for any commanding officer to refuse to testify at any
stage of a court-martial proceeding, said Gary D. Solis, a former
military judge and prosecutor who teaches the law of war at Georgetown
During the raid, the soldiers discovered three Iraqi men hiding in a
house, who were using women and children to shield themselves,
Sergeant Lemus said in his statement. The soldiers separated out the
men, blindfolded them and bound their hands with plastic "zip ties,"
restraints that are not as strong as the plastic flex cuffs often used
Then, Sergeant Lemus told investigators, his squad leader, Staff Sgt.
Raymond L. Girouard, was told by another sergeant over the radio, "The
detainees should have been killed."
The man accused of making that remark, First Sgt. Eric J. Geressy, has
denied it. In his own sworn statement, he told an investigator that
during the radio call, "I was wondering why they did not kill the
enemy during contact." But he added, "At no point did I ever try to
put any idea into those soldiers' heads to execute or do any harm to
Sergeant Lemus gave investigators the following account of what
happened next: About 10 minutes later, the squad leader gathered
Sergeant Lemus and three other soldiers in a house nearby, telling
them to "bring it in close" so he could talk quietly to them. Sergeant
Girouard spoke in a "low-toned voice" and "talked with his hands,"
making clear he was going to kill the three Iraqis.
"I didn't like the idea, so I walked toward the door," Sergeant Lemus
said in his statement. "He looked around at everyone and asked if
anyone else had an issue or a problem." No one spoke.
Soon afterward, Sergeant Lemus recounted, he was standing near the
landing zone when he heard shouts and bursts of gunfire. He saw the
detainees running and then falling to the ground. He walked back to
the scene and asked Sergeant Girouard what happened.
"But he couldn't answer," Sergeant Lemus said. "He just looked at the
bodies and had this frozen look on his face. I asked him where my guys
were, and he stuttered that they were in the building," getting first aid.
Sergeant Girouard has been charged with premeditated murder, a capital
offense, as have three other soldiers: Specialist William B. Hunsaker,
Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Specialist Juston R. Graber. Private Clagett
and Specialist Hunsaker are accused of actually shooting the prisoners.
Mr. Bergrin, the lawyer who represents Private Clagett, and Mr.
Waddington, who represents Specialist Hunsaker, dispute Sergeant
Lemus's account. They say the prisoners broke free as two soldiers
were fixing the zip ties, which were coming loose. They say the
prisoners stabbed Specialist Hunsaker and punched Private Clagett
before trying to flee.
But in his statement, Sergeant Lemus said he heard from the accused
soldiers that it was Sergeant Girouard who cut Specialist Hunsaker in
an effort to make the stabbing story sound plausible. He believed it,
Sergeant Lemus said, because "they both have Ranger school backgrounds
and they are pretty close friends," and he added, "They would always
talk about the French Foreign Legion and renegade mercenaries running
around from country to country."
Three days later, Private Clagett "told me he couldn't stop thinking
about it," Sergeant Lemus recalled. The private asked how Sergeant
Lemus had responded to seeing dead bodies and shooting the enemy
during his time in Iraq.
"I told him it was all right that he felt like that," Sergeant Lemus
said. "He was really stressed because when he slept the few hours he
did, he dreamed about it over and over."
Two initial investigations of the killings by commanders found no
wrongdoing. It is not clear who eventually came forward to tell
commanders that there was another version of what happened on May 9.
At one point, Sergeant Lemus said in his statement, Sergeant Girouard
gathered the men who had been present before the killing and told them
"to be loyal and not to go bragging or spreading rumors" about what
had happened. Sergeant Girouard added that "if he found out who told
anything about it he would find that person after he got out of jail
and kill him or her."
Sergeant Lemus said he laughed off the threat at the time. But there
may have been other threats. In addition to murder, the four accused
soldiers are charged with threatening to kill Pfc. Bradley L. Mason,
one of the men in the squad, if he told what he knew about the shootings.
"Waiting to Get Blown Up"
Some soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored
Division - interviewed over four days on base and on patrols - say
they have grown increasingly disillusioned about their ability to
quell the violence and their reason for fighting. The battalion of
more than 750 people arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in March, and
since then, six soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded. "It sucks.
Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown
up, that's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim
Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor
University. "You lose a couple friends and it gets hard." "No one
wants to be here, you know, no one is truly enthused about what we
do," said Sgt. Christopher Dugger, the squad leader.
Read entire article at:
Iraqi Resistance Report for events of Friday, 28 July 2006
Translated and/or compiled by Muhammad Abu Nasr, member, editorial
board, the Free Arab Voice.
· Two US troops reported killed north of Baghdad Thursday night.
· At least three occupation troops from El Salvador reported
killed in Resistance bombing in ad-Diwaniyah Thursday evening.
· Resistance bomb targets British tank in al-Basrah.
Iraqi Resistance car bomb blasts two US armored vehicles apart in
ar-Rutbah Friday morning.
In a dispatch posted at 10:38am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that a short while earlier an Iraqi Resistance car
bomb exploded by a column of seven US armored vehicles in ar-Rutbah, a
city in western Iraq near the Jordanian border.
The ar-Rutbah correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported that the
blast destroyed and set ablaze two of the American armored vehicles.
After the attack, US forces surrounded the area, making it impossible
for the correspondent to ascertain details as to how the bomb was
detonated or the nature and extent of US casualties.
American occupation forces arrest 63 in mass raids in ar-Ramadi.
In a dispatch posted at 7:22pm Makkah time Friday evening, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that US occupation forces carried out a series of
new arrests in the city of ar-Ramadi, about 110km west of Baghdad.
The ar-Ramadi correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported a spokesman
for the local puppet police as saying that the latest American
campaign of mass arrests involved the capture of 63 so-called "suspects."
The source indicated that those arrested range in age between 20 and
50 years of age and come from different parts of the city.
Sunni Mosque targeted by mortar shells during Friday worship services,
In a dispatch posted at 5:52pm Makkah time Friday afternoon, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that five Iraqi Sunnis were killed during Friday
prayers in the Mosque of al-'Ali al-'Azim in Baghdad.
The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported a medical source as
saying that while the Imam was delivering his sermon in the mosque the
house of worship came under a mortar barrage of unknown origin. The
mortar shells killed five worshippers and moderately wounded others.
Puppet regime imposes vehicle ban in Sunni neighborhoods to prevent
Friday prayer services.
In a dispatch posted at 10:35am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that for the sixth week in a row the US-installed
Iraqi puppet authorities declared a ban on motor vehicles in Sunni
neighborhoods of the occupied Iraqi capital from 11am local time until
4pm. The ban is designed to prevent Sunni residents of the capital
from attending Friday congregation al prayer services, which are held
in the early afternoon.
The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported that the car curfew
was imposed only on Sunni neighborhoods, and that this was the sixth
week in a row in which such a ban has been imposed.
Two US troops reported killed north of Baghdad Thursday night.
In a dispatch posted at 10:58am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that an Iraqi Resistance bomb exploded by a US
column on the road from the northern Baghdad suburb of at-Taji to
Kirkuk late on Thursday night.
The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported a source in the Iraqi
puppet police as saying that a bomb on the road went off by a US
Humvee on the road north of Baghdad, killing two US soldiers and
severely wounding a third.
Death toll in Thursday car bombing of Badr Brigade headquarters rises
In a dispatch posted at 10:50am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that a medical source had announced that the number
of persons killed in Thrusday's double car bombing in Baghdad's
al-Karadah district had risen to 34, most of them members or
supporters of the pro-American Shi'i sectarian Badr Brigade. The
attack took place at the new headquarters of the Brigade and among the
dead were also two Iranians.
The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported that an addition 101
people were wounded in the blast, most of them severely. The
correspondent noted that Iran's ambassador to occupied Baghdad
condemned the attack.
US occupation forces impose curfew on Ba'qubah, preventing Friday
In a dispatch posted at 10:36am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that a short while earlier US occupation forces
imposed a curfew on the city of Ba'qubah, 65km northeast of Baghdad,
from 11am until 4pm local time. The measure prevents Muslims from
holding their weekly congregational prayer services which take place
on the early afternoon of Fridays.
The Ba'qubah correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported that the US
occupation forces also sealed off the city and used loudspeakers to
impose the curfew on the pretext of "security precautions."
Peshmergah gunman abducted Thursday night.
In a dispatch posted at 11:10am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that armed men abducted a member of the pro-American
Kurdish separatist Peshmergah militia in the al-Qadisiyah area of
Kirkuk in northern Iraq on Thursday night.
The correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported a source in the
US-run "Joint Coordination Center" as saying that armed men driving an
Oldsmobile without license plates abducted Karzan Ghazi, a Peshmergah
gunman, from in front of his house. The source offered no further
At least three occupation troops from El Salvador reported killed in
Resistance bombing in ad-Diwaniyah Thursday evening.
In a dispatch posted at am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that an Iraqi Resistance bomb exploded by a military
column of American satellite troops from El Salvador in ad-Diwaniyah,
120km southeast of Baghdad, on Thursday evening.
The an-Nasiriyah correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported
eyewitnesses as saying that the explosion took place in the Ras
at-Tablit residential area of ad-Diwaniyah, killing at least three
Salvadoran occupation troops and wounding more of them.
The correspondent reported that the occupation troops responded by
opening fire indiscriminately around the area, killing or wounding
five local civilians, one of them a young neighborhood boy.
Later in the day the Salvadoran government officially admitted that
the attack had taken place.
Resistance bomb targets British tank in al-Basrah.
In a dispatch posted at 10:55am Makkah time Friday morning, Mafkarat
al-Islam reported that an Iraqi Resistance high-explosive bomb went
off by a passing British military patrol in the southern Iraqi city of
al-Basrah at 10am Friday morning.
The al-Basrah correspondent for Mafkarat al-Islam reported
eyewitnesses as saying that the blast, at the Military Hospital
intersection, 5km north of the city disabled a British tank and
wounded four British soldiers, one of them severely.
A newly-formed Iraqi Resistance organization calling itself the Salafi
Brigades of az-Zubayr ibn al-'Ulum took responsibility for the attack
according to sources available to Mafkarat al-Islam.
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