U.S. soldier testifies
his sergeant ordered him to shoot and kill unarmed Iraqi man
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. soldier cried Thursday as he told a
court-martial that his staff sergeant ordered him to shoot an
unarmed Iraqi. He said the sergeant then laughed and told the
trooper to finish the job as the dying man convulsed on the ground.
The military reported, meanwhile, that it had opened an
investigation into the deaths of five women and four children this
week in a village where American forces had carried out ground and
Both incidents took place in a region
south of the capital known as the triangle of death, a
Sunni-dominated area that has seen some of the war's heaviest
fighting and most gruesome deaths.
Prosecutors claim the first case involved the killing of an Iraqi
man with a 9mm pistol, placing an AK-47 rifle by his body to make it
seem as though he was armed, and failing to ensure humane treatment
of a detainee -- the victim.
In the court-martial, Sgt. Evan Vela, 23, spoke barely above a
whisper as he recounted shooting the man on May 11 near Iskandariyah,
a mostly Sunni city 30 miles south of Baghdad.
Vela said Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley of Candler, N.C., told him to
shoot the man, who had stumbled upon their snipers' hideout,
although he was not armed and had his hands in the air when he
approached the soldiers.
"He (Hensley) asked me if I was ready. I had the pistol out. I heard
the word shoot. I don't remember pulling the trigger. It took me a
second to realize that the shot came from the pistol in my hand," he
Vela said that as the Iraqi man was convulsing on the ground,
"Hensley kind of laughed about it and hit the guy on the throat and
said shoot again."
"After he (the Iraqi man) was shot, Hensley pulled an AK-47 out of
his rucksack and said, 'this is what we are going to say happened,"'
Vela said, before he was dismissed from the witness stand to compose
Vela told the story during the second day of the court-martial of
Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas. Sandoval is on trial for
allegedly killing Iraqis and trying to cover up the deaths by
planting weapons at the scene.
Vela said Sandoval was not present during the May 11 killing but was
nearby providing security. Sandoval has pleaded not guilty to five
charges, including the April 27 murder of a second unidentified
Iraqi man and placing a detonation wire on his body. He faces a
maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Both Vela of Rigby, Idaho, and Hensley are also charged in the case
but will be court-martialed separately. It was unclear why Vela was
called to testify in Sandoval's court-martial.
The three soldiers are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters
Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade
(Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson,
Vela was flown from Kuwait to testify under a deal that bars his
account of events from being used against him when he goes to trial.
Military prosecutors said the killings in which the three men are
charged occurred between April and June near Iskandariyah. The
investigation began after military authorities received reports of
alleged wrongdoing from fellow soldiers, the Army has said.
Sandoval was arrested in June while on a two-week leave visiting his
Vela's lawyer Gary Myers claimed this week that Army snipers hunting
insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with
suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, then kill those who
picked up the items. He said his client was acting on "orders."
A second Vela lawyer, James Culp, said: "Our client is no murderer.
The world will consider him to be a victim in this case." He said
Vela had slept only three hours the night before the incident and
that the soldiers had been on a sniping mission for four days.
Asked about the existence of the "baiting program," Capt. Craig
Drummond, Sandoval's military defense attorney, said it was unclear
"what programs were going on out there and when," especially "if
there were things that were done that made the rules of engagement
Sgt. 1st Class Tarrol Petersen, who instructs snipers at Ft. Benning,
Ga., testified as an expert witness that snipers need sufficient
"You can only last for so long when you are on a mission. As snipers
we look through a scope, we see a face. It's a lot different than
shooting someone 100 meters away with an ordinary rifle. When
snipers break, they break bad," Petersen said.
In the incident south of Baghdad in which the five women and four
children died, the military said their bodies were found after U.S.
forces targeted al-Qaida in Iraq-linked fighters in ground and air
operations late Tuesday in the predominantly Sunni village of
Two area police officers told The Associated Press that U.S. fighter
jets bombed two houses before dawn Wednesday. The women and children
were killed in the first house struck, and the second house was
damaged, they said.
Amer Zamil, who works at nearby Mussayib hospital 40 miles south of
Baghdad, said two of the children were decapitated, evidently in the
The police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because
they were not authorized to release the information, said ground
forces raided a local mosque and that the preacher, Imam Hassan
Abboud al-Janabi, was killed. The military had no immediate response
to the claims.
The military said buildings in the area have been used as al-Qaida
hideouts. It said a search of a nearby house uncovered material for
making roadside bombs, including wire, batteries and timers.
The police said the targeted village was a stronghold of insurgents
who have prevented Iraqi security forces from entering.
Also Thursday, Iraq's Sunni vice president held a rare meeting with
the country's top Shiite cleric to seek support for a 25-point
blueprint for political reform, the latest in a series of efforts by
both Islamic sects to promote unity.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
praised his initiative during their two-hour meeting in Najaf, 100
miles south of Baghdad. The Shiite spiritual leader previously has
met with Sunni clerics, but this was his first meeting with a senior
government official from the disaffected minority Islamic sect,
Meanwhile, American forces arrested three "extremists" in high-level
jobs and plotting kidnapping operations at Baghdad International
Airport, the military said in a statement. It said those arrested
were plotting to kidnap Iraqi forces and civilians working with U.S.