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Friday, August 4, 2006 - Page updated at 01:08 AM

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Accused U.S. soldiers refuse to testify

The Associated Press

TIKRIT, Iraq — Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering Iraqi detainees refused to testify Thursday at a military hearing, where witnesses described the victims' violent deaths.

The four invoked their right not to testify for fear of incriminating themselves at the hearing to determine if they should be court-martialed for the May 9 shooting deaths. Instead, their attorneys submitted sworn statements and rested their case.

The defendants — Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber — initially said the three detainees were killed because they tried to escape, but military prosecutors have said they were freed before being shot.

The shootings have raised questions about the Army's rules of engagement and dealt another blow to the reputation of U.S. soldiers, fueling anger against the coalition presence.

In his testimony, witness Cpl. Brandon Helton said he was the last man off the helicopter that brought the accused and other soldiers to a corner of an island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, in search of suspected al-Qaida operatives.

Helton said the three Iraqis had already been detained when he arrived, but he saw them trying to flee before they were shot. Some of the detainees had their blindfolds down and were "running at full sprint," he said.

At that point, the soldiers fired.

Defense lawyers are arguing the soldiers were only following the orders of brigade commander Col. Michael Steele to "kill all military-aged males." A witness, Spc. Micah Bivens, said he doesn't recall hearing such an order.

Steele, who led Army Rangers during the 1993 battle for Mogadishu in Somalia, has denied the allegations. He declined to speak to reporters about the charges, and has also invoked his right not to testify.

Girouard, Hunsaker, Clagett and Graber could face the death penalty if the case is passed on for a court-martial. They are accused of concocting a story to justify the shootings and covering up the incident.

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The first three are also accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to kill Pfc. Bradley Mason, the prosecution's leading witness, who testified Wednesday.

"It's our position that you didn't prove anything in this case," Paul Bergrin, a civilian attorney, said Thursday to prosecutors after submitting the sworn statement by his client, Clagett.

6 Marines charged

in new assault case

SAN DIEGO — Six Marines accused of injuring civilians in the Iraqi village of Hamdania in April were charged Thursday with assault.

Half of the men were already being held on murder charges in an unrelated case. Military officials said the assaults were uncovered during an investigation into that slaying.

A seventh Marine, an officer, is expected to be charged next week in the assault case, according to Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine Corps' defense coordinator for the western United States.

The nature of the assaults was not described.

Charged Thursday were Lance Cpl. Saul H. Lopezromo, Pfc. Derek I. Lewis, Lance Cpl. Henry D. Lever, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas and Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., officials said.

Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate were among eight servicemen previously charged in the April 26 slaying of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad, an Iraqi civilian, officials said.

All six Marines in the assault case are currently assigned to the Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.

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