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A US military officer sounded "pretty mad and upset" that a group of soldiers had taken suspected Iraqi insurgents alive during a raid in which they had been told to kill all military-aged males, a court was told Tuesday.
A soldier who has pleaded guilty to killing those detainees told the court that he shot them because his squad leader told him to do it after having been reprimanded when he radioed back to base to say he had prisoners to transport.
Private William Hunsaker showed little remorse for his crimes, saying he had only agreed to an 18-year sentence because "I got tired of lying to everybody and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in prison for -- in my eyes -- killing three terrorists."
Hunsaker was testifying at the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard, 24, the highest-ranking soldier among four charged in the May 9, 2006, incident and the only soldier who did not plead guilty.
He described how Girouard gathered the squad in a house, told them that the officer at the command post was "pretty mad and upset" that the prisoners were still alive and then told them how to cover up the murders.
"He tells us to cut the ties, let them loose and shoot them," Hunsaker told the court before describing how he aimed his gun at the heart of one of the prisoners.
After the three men were dead, "Girouard boots me over, flips open his pocketknife and said 'it's got to look good'" before cutting Hunsaker's face and arm to make it look like he was injured in a struggle as the prisoners tried to escape, Hunsaker told the court.
Another soldier who admitted to killing the detainees told the court he considered it an initiation rite.
"That's what the army is, a big gang," said Private Corey Claget who also received an 18-year sentence.
A third soldier, who said his objections to the plan were dismissed, said Girouard was nonchalant about ordering the executions.
"Sergeant Girouard basically said Hunsaker and Claget were going to kill the detainees and that was pretty much it," Specialist Bradly Mason told the court.
"I said why and he said because they wanted to."
The investigation of the four men from the famed Kentucky-based Rakkasans, the third Combat Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, has focused a critical light on the US military's controversial and opaque rules of engagement in Iraq.
Military investigators found several witnesses who said they heard Colonel Michael Steele tell his troops to "kill all military-aged males" in the assault on a suspected insurgent base on an island in the Tigris River north of Baghdad.
Steele, who will not testify at Girouard's trial, has denied that he ordered the killings and some of the witnesses testified at a military hearing last year that this order did not apply to suspects who were clearly surrendering.
Girouard's civilian defense attorney said he, like Steele, should not be held accountable for the actions of his subordinates. Especially since Girouard was not even in the area when the detainees were killed.
"Staff Sergeant Girouard did not kill any detainees, nor did he order anybody to kill those three detainees," Anita Gorecki said in opening statements.
While Girouard did participate in the cover-up, it was not to protect himself, but to help his fellow soldiers.
"He realized that they had killed these three detainees, and in that moment, yes, he decided to help his squad members," Gorecki said.
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