U.S. military investigators believe the killing of an unarmed Iraqi man in Hamandiya in April was planned by a group of Marines who shot him in the face and then planted a shovel and an AK-47 rifle at the scene. Friends of the victim told Knight Ridder that Marines had approached him several times asking him to be an U.S. informant. We go to Baghdad to speak with the bureau chief for Knight Ridder. [includes rush transcript]
The family of an Iraqi man killed by American forces in the town of Hamandiya in April has approved his exhumation as part of a US military investigation into his death.
Investigators believe the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad was planned by a group of Marines who shot him in the face and then planted a shovel and an AK-47 rifle at the scene. This according to the Associated Press.
A senior Pentagon official told AP that the AK-47 and the shovel–which were taken from another home before the shooting–were meant to make it look like the man had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb and was killed in an exchange of gunfire.
Hashim Awad was in his 50’s with a lame leg and bad eyesight.
His family told the Washington Post that a small group of U.S. servicemen came to them last week and offered the family money in exchange for supporting the Marines’ version of the killing.
Seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman are being held in the brig at California’s Camp Pendleton in connection with the probe. Four other Marines have been confined to base. A source familiar with the investigation told CNN last week that murder charges were "likely" against the Marines.
Meanwhile, friends of Hashim Awad told Knight Ridder that U.S. Marines had approached him several times asking him to be an informant. He refused every time.
- Nancy Youssef, Baghdad Bureau Chief for Knight Ridder.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on this story we go to Baghdad to speak with Nancy Youssef, the Baghdad bureau chief for Knight Ridder. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Nancy.
NANCY YOUSSEF: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you tell us the latest on this killing in Hamandiya?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure. We’re hearing conflicting reports about whether the body has been exhumed. The family told us that they agreed to that, which was interesting because some consider that un-Islamic. Here it’s starting to get some more reaction as residents are learning about the circumstances of the incident. And the investigation remained open in Camp Pendleton.
AMY GOODMAN: Nancy, why don’t we go through the story again. Knight Ridder has been following this very closely. Tell us what happened in April, and what you understand from conversations, for example, with the brother of the man and others.
NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure. In fact, we were the first to talk to the family, it took a little bit of time because the military misspelled the name of the town. So once we found it, it’s a very small town, it’s right next to Abu Ghraib, it’s just north of the prison. And the families there said that on the night of April 26, Marines were knocking door to door and asking for various things. As it turns out, all the doors that they knocked on were friends or relatives of Hashim. At the friend’s house they knocked, and it was a very gentle knock, according to one of Hashim’s brothers, and they thought well, they’re not here to raid me so I’m not going to answer the door and maybe they’ll go away. And he was surprised when they did. He looked out the window and he saw them go to another house, of a friend of his named Mohammed. And Mohammed said that they knocked at the door and his mother answered. And they asked his mother, "Are there any men here?" and she said no. And they left. And then the brothers saw men go from Mohammed’s house to another house, Farhan’s. And Farhan said that they came to his house and they told them that they were conducting a raid. They looked in the house, and there was a shovel leaning against the front of the house, and they took it. And they asked him if he had any weapons, and he said "I have an AK-47," and they took that from him. And he didn’t think anything of it. He thought maybe they suspected that someone would use this shovel and the AK-47 on an act against them and he said he thought to himself, "In the morning, I’ll approach the first patrol I see and get my AK-47 and shovel back," not knowing what the family said happened next. After they left that friend’s house, the family said they went to Hashim’s house.
And then his brother, Awad, the same brother who had been looking out the window the whole time, he sees them go to Hashim’s house, knock on the door, and he sees the same group of six or seven soldiers at the house. He sees two of them, one grab each hand and pull Hashim out. He says he didn’t think anything of it because he thought maybe they questioned him for a few hours, maybe they detained him for a few days, but ultimately they would find nothing on him and he would be released. And so this goes on, and the next morning — this is all the middle of the night — the next morning he gets up and he goes to Hashim’s house and thought he better tell the family that his brother, Hashim, had been detained, in case they didn’t know, since this happened in the middle of the night. They didn’t know and they were looking for him. And then Awad said he went to work at a gas station, at a petrol station, and some police pulled in, and said "The Americans brought his body to our station. And he was killed in your area. Would you mind looking at him to see if you can identify him." And he saw the body and the shovel and the AK-47, and he said, "I recognized him but I just couldn’t put it together, his face was so swollen." And it really nagged at him, he said. And so then he went to the hospital, later on that day. After [unintelligible] told him about the AK-47 and the shovel that was taken, and he put it all together finally and said he discovered it was his brother.
And since that time he says he has been harassed by investigators coming to his house. The investigation started because a few days after this incident, a local [unintelligible] held a [unintelligible] community meeting and word had spread, because it’s a small town. The local tribal leaders came and said to the Marines, "this man was wrongly killed," and they opened an investigation. And so since that time, Awad and his mother say that they’ve been harassed by Marines, that they get knocks in the middle of the night. At one point they said they were taken to Abu Ghraib by the military and questioned and then driven back in a military convoy. And they said that they agreed to let his body be exhumed because they want to do anything they can to basically get justice out of this case.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nancy Youssef, Baghdad bureau chief for Knight Ridder. The family showed you a signed statement by a U.S. soldier, by a Marine?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Yes. That’s right. When the body came to the police station — when he went to the gas station to his job and everything was put together, the police said, "by the way with we got the body, we had this statement as well." And a few day after that there were fliers posted in Arabic around that said the Marines had — admitting that they had killed Hashim because he was a Mujahideen, and because he was a suspected terrorist and because when things like this happen, they must respond with lethal force.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are you going? How are you following the story now, Nancy Youssef?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, really the story moves to the U.S. What was interesting to me was that when we were trying to find this man, we kept asking people, before we knew the town, before we knew exactly where it was, we kept asking people, this man, and Anbar, do you know Anbar, who was killed by the Americans, do you know him? And the response over and over and over again was, "One man? That happens every day." For me I think it’s really just trying to capture that feeling, and the implications of that sentiment. I think a lot of people here are looking to this investigation. There’s a lot of pessimism that this will lead to any serious charges for the Marines involved either in this case or Haditha, and I don’t think people are really holding their breaths here for murder charges. So we’re really watching that reaction. And as the momentum shifts over in the U.S., it’s really now having a change in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Youssef, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Baghdad bureau chief of Knight Ridder.