Plea agreements puzzle experts
By Linda Deutsch and Thomas Watkins
CAMP PENDLETON – In the beginning, there were eight. A squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with kidnapping and murdering an Iraqi man, a crime described by a prosecutor as especially brutal.
They faced military trials; the death penalty was possible.
And now there are four. In the six months the men have been held at the Camp Pendleton brig, the profile of the Al-Hamdaniyah cases has changed dramatically. The death penalty is off the table and four of the defendants have struck plea bargains.
Some observers of the military justice system find the developments mystifying.
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University Law Center, said he was surprised by the number of plea agreements in this case.
“It’s a wonderment to me that it’s happening in the military system,” he said.
The group was accused of kidnapping 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the town of Al-Hamdaniyah, taking him to a roadside hole, shooting him and then trying to cover up the incident. According to court testimony, the service members planned to kidnap and kill a known insurgent, and when they couldn’t get to him, some members of the squad went into Awad’s home.
“They killed a 52-year-old crippled man in cold blood,” Lt. Col. John Baker, a prosecutor, said during a recent hearing. “They killed a retired police officer with 11 children and four grandchildren. Hashim Awad was a very forgiving and gentle man. He was precisely the kind of man” the Marines were sent to help.
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