The classified program
was described in investigative documents related to recently filed
murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting
evidence on Iraqis they killed.
"Baiting is putting
an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention
of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of
an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the
501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we
would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the
item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would
engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the
item against U.S. Forces."
In documents obtained
by The Washington Post from family members of the accused
soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric
Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along
ammunition boxes filled with the "drop items" to be used "to
disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition
Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight."
president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such
a baiting program should be examined "quite meticulously" because
it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when
civilians pick up the items.
"In a country that is
awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every
time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a
weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a
target on his back," Fidell said.
Soldiers said that
about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that
numerous others knew about the "drop items" but did not know their
purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about
the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they
learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a
sniper mission, according to the documents.
declined to discuss the classified program, details of which
appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts
of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found
materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an
ammunition can at the sniper unit's base.
"We don't discuss
specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an
Army spokesman. "The accused are charged with murder and
wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals.
There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of
local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings
appear legally justified."
It is unclear whether
the program reached elsewhere in Iraq and how many people were
killed through the baiting tactics.
Members of the sniper
platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more
insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses.
The sniper unit -- dubbed "the painted demons" because of the use
of tiger-stripe face paint -- often went on missions into hostile
areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons
"It's our job out
here to lay people down who are doing bad things," Spec. Joshua L.
Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit's numerous
casualties. "I don't want to call it revenge, but we needed to
find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and
still maintain the right military things to do."
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."
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.
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.
could not be reached to comment. Sandoval's attorney, Capt.
Craig Drummond, thinks his client is innocent in both deaths.
have charged this guy with two murders when on both occasions he
was just doing his job," Drummond said.
Sandoval did not have anything to do with placing an AK-47 in
the pump-house killing. Sandoval made a statement to
investigators discussing his involvement in planting the command
wire on the first victim.
"That was done by
one of the soldiers at the scene basically out of stupidity.
The guys were trying to ensure that there were no questions at
all about this kill," Drummond said. "It was done to overly
justify a kill that didn't need justification."
Hensley is also
charged with killing an Iraqi man whom he approached after the
sniper team noticed the man placing wires on a road. Hensley
shot him outside his home, maintaining that the man appeared
to be moving for a weapon.
Two and a half
months after the shooting near the pump house, authorities
seized Sandoval while he was vacationing at his mother's house
in Laredo, Tex. The charges have baffled family members, who
describe Sandoval as a caring and honest young man who is
being punished for following orders.
"This has been a
shock to all of us," said his eldest sister, Norma Vasquez.
"He's been in shock, too, he doesn't know what . . . is going
former high school ROTC member, is scheduled to face a
court-martial in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Curtis Carnahan, said he thinks the military is rushing the
cases and is holding the proceedings in a war zone to shield
facts from the U.S. public.
injustice that is being done to them," Carnahan said. "I feel
like you can't prosecute our soldiers for acts of war and
threaten them with years and years of confinement when this
program, if it comes to the light of day, was clearly coming
from higher levels. . . . All those people who said 'go use
this stuff' just disappeared, like they never sanctioned it."
reported from Baghdad. Researcher Julie Tate contributed to