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Source: Killing of Iraqi may have been 'premeditated'

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Navy investigators have evidence that U.S. Marines may have committed "premeditated" murder in the April shooting death of an unarmed Iraqi man in Hamdaniya, a military officer close to the inquiry told CNN.

The incident is unrelated to a criminal investigation into the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November.

In the Hamdaniya incident, some of the Marines in pretrial confinement have admitted the circumstances of the man's death were staged, said the officer.

Their statements form part of the evidence suggesting Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, murdered the man, the source said.

"They went after someone, not necessarily this person, but they set out to get someone," the officer told CNN, referring to the Marines now under investigation.

The officer spoke to CNN under the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Knight Ridder News Service reports seeing a one-page, handwritten report shown by the victim's family. The report cited a U.S. Marine sergeant who said the man was killed because he was seen "digging on the side of the road from our ambush site. I made the call and engaged. He was pronounced dead at the scene with only a shovel and AK-47."

Knight Ridder identified the man as Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Investigators have concluded U.S. Marines dragged the man from his house and shot him before placing the shovel and AK-47 next to his body, implicating him as an insurgent, the official told CNN.

Seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman are being held in the brig at California's Camp Pendleton, as commanders weigh possible charges against them in connection with the April 26 killing.

Four other Marines have been confined to base in connection with the probe, a Camp Pendleton spokesman said last week.

"The individuals were placed in pretrial confinement because of the commander's evaluation of the ongoing investigation. All of the individuals in pretrial confinement have been afforded the opportunity of a magistrate's hearing," said Lt. Lawton King, a spokesman for the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.

Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of U.S. troops in western Iraq, asked for an investigation after Iraqi officials brought the allegation to Marine commanders at a May 1 meeting.

Murder charges were "likely" against "somewhere around seven Marines" in the case, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN on condition of anonymity last week.

If murder charges are filed, it would be the first accusation of an intentional killing of an Iraqi civilian for Marines at Camp Pendleton -- a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

The attorney for one of the accused denounced what he called cowardly, anonymous leakers at the Pentagon.

"One needs to remember the several cases in which they [the NCIS] have solemnly pronounced the guilt of a Marine that turned out upon a full and unbiased investigation to be without merit," said criminal defense attorney David Brahms.

An attorney representing the Navy medical corpsman, expressed concern that the media frenzy surrounding the case "has contributed to the current conditions my client is enduring at the Camp Pendleton Brig."

"There are known terrorists incarcerated in military facilities around the world who enjoy more freedom and less restriction than he is experiencing," Jeremiah J. Sullivan said in a statement issued to the media.

"During the one brief period per day he is allowed to utilize the recreational yard, my client remains shackled at the hands, waist, and ankles. Anytime he walks within the recreational yard he is escorted by at least one military prison guard who grasps onto his waist shackles at all times. The balance of his time is spent in solitary confinement," Sullivan said.

Sullivan expressed confidence that his client "will be vindicated at the conclusion of this process."

CNN's Stan Wilson contributed to this story.

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