Iraqis Being Brought to Camp Pendleton to Testify in Criminal Cases

By Mark Walker, North County Times, January 11, 2007

CAMP PENDLETON - The Marine Corps is working to bring four Iraqis to the U.S. later this month to testify in the cases of three Camp Pendleton Marines accused of assaulting Iraqi civilians in the village of Hamdania last year.

Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Wagner testified during an Article 32 hearing for 2nd Lt. Nathan Phan, accused of assaulting three Iraqis on April 10, that arrangement are being made to bring one of the alleged victims and three other witnesses to the U.S. later this month.

If the witnesses are brought to Camp Pendleton, they would be the first Iraqis to testify in the two criminal cases brought last year against members of a Kilo Company platoon from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

In June, the Marine Corps charged seven Marines and a Navy medical corpsman with murder in the April 26shooting death of a retired Iraqi policeman. In the course of that investigation, the alleged assault case emerged resulting the charges against Phan, a 26-year-old platoon leader from the Sacramento area.

In the homicide case, three Marines and the corpsman have pleaded guilty to lesser offenses and are serving jail terms ranging from 12 to 21 months.

One of those who pleaded guilty in the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, former lance corporal and now Pvt. Jerry Schumate Jr., is expected to testify this afternoon about his knowledge of the assault case.

This morning, Lance Cpl. Saul Lopezromo testified that he took part in the beating of one of the Iraqis U.S. authorities are attempting to bring to the base to testify, Khalid Hamad Daham. The 22-year-old Lopezromo said that Daham was known as a former intelligence officer in the regime of now-executed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and was someone who had disrespected Marine Corps presence in the area.

The beating was part of an effort to "send a message" to the village about insurgent activity and the need to respect what the Marine Corps was doing in the area, Lopezromo testified.

He also testified that while he witnessed other beatings as well as having taken part in the beating of Daham, he never saw Phan strike that man or any other Iraqi.

Of the other men Phan is accused of beating, one was killed by insurgent in June, the court was told, and the other is refusing to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

The hearing to help determine if Phan will be ordered to court-martial is scheduled to continue Friday and possibly Saturday. At the conclusion, hearing officer Lt. Col. William Pigott will recommend to Lt. Gen. James Mattis what action should be taken.

Also charged with assault is Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, also a defendant in the homicide case, and Cpl. Trent Thomas. When Shumate pleaded guilty in the homicide case, an assault charge against him was dismissed.