An Army investigator has recommended that four soldiers accused of murder in a raid in Iraq should face the death penalty if convicted, according to a report obtained Saturday by The Associated Press.
Lt. Col. James P. Daniel Jr. concluded that the slayings were premeditated and warranted the death sentence based on evidence he heard at an August hearing. The case will now be forwarded to Army officials, who will decide whether Daniel's recommendation should be followed.
The soldiers, all from the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division's 187th Infantry Regiment, are accused of killing three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Spc. Juston R. Graber have claimed they were ordered to "kill all military age males" during the raid on the island. According to statements from some of the soldiers, they were told the target was an al-Qaida training camp.
Hunsaker told investigators that he and Clagett were attacked by the three men, who were being handcuffed, and shot them in self-defense. Clagett said he was hit in the face, and Hunsaker claimed he was stabbed during the attack.
Prosecutors argue the soldiers conspired to kill the men and then altered the scene to fit their story. They contend Girouard stabbed Hunsaker as part of the killing plot.
Clagett, Girouard and Hunsaker also are accused of threatening to kill another soldier who witnessed the slayings. Girouard, the most senior soldier charged, faces several additional charges, including sexual harassment and carrying a personal weapon on duty.
Paul Bergrin, Clagett's civilian attorney, said he was surprised that Daniel recommended the case be taken to trial at all.
"I'm extremely disappointed and disheartened," Bergrin said Saturday. "They are being used as pawns in the war on terror. They followed the rules of engagement. They were confronted with violence by a known al-Qaida training camp member."
Other lawyers in the case, several of whom are deployed to Iraq, did not immediately respond to e-mail requests for comment.
The soldiers are expected to be tried at Fort Campbell. They have been jailed in Kuwait since their arrests this year.
The U.S. military has not executed a soldier since the 1960 hanging of a soldier convicted rape and attempted murder.
Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell, the El Paso, Texas, correspondent, reported this story from Glendale, Ariz.