Nagem Sadoon Hatab, an Iraqi POW, suffocated last year at a holding facility near Nasiriyah (search), the first death of an Iraqi prisoner to be acknowledged by the U.S. military.

Reserve Sgt. Gary Pittman (search), of New York, is one of three men charged in the June 2003 death. He could receive more than three years in a military prison if found guilty on two charges of dereliction of duty and four counts of assault.

The accused Marines (searchand their lawyers say Hatab died of natural causes, perhaps an asthma attack.

Pittman's military trial was set to begin Monday. More than 40 witnesses were scheduled to testify at his court-martial, which is expected to last about three weeks.

According to a fellow Marine who has been granted immunity, Pittman karate-kicked Hatab in the chest so hard that he flew three feet before hitting the floor.

Hatab, 52, had been rumored to be an official of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Baath party (search), as well as involved in the ambush of a U.S. Army convoy that killed 11 soldiers and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch (searchand five others.

Within 48 hours of his arrest, a guard found a lifeless Hatab lying naked and covered in his own waste in a yard.

Hatab is among 37 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners whose deaths are being investigated. His was the only one to occur at Camp Whitehorse, outside Nasiriyah; the facility has since been closed.

Conditions there were harsh. Prisoners used cardboard boxes for toilets and prisoners slept on the floor of a stone building. During the day, the outside temperature reached 120 degrees.

Guards came from the New York-based 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment (search). The reservists were attached to Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Division when they landed in Iraq.

According to pretrial testimony taken at Camp Pendleton (searchearlier this year, none of the reservists had been trained to run a military prison.

At preliminary hearings, Col. William Gallo found that Hatab and another inmate received "arbitrary beatings" from Pittman and Lance Cpl. William Roy, a county jail guard from Troy, N.Y.

Roy, who testified under immunity, said Pittman — who in civilian life was a guard at a New York City federal prison — karate-kicked the handcuffed, hooded man in the chest.

Maj. Clarke Paulus, who commanded the detention center at Camp Whitehorse, allegedly authorized a Marine to grab Hatab by the neck to drag him to a holding pen.

An autopsy concluded that he had seven broken ribs and slowly suffocated from a crushed windpipe.

Eight Marines originally were charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide. However, Gallo found that while Hatab had been illegally assaulted, it could not be determined who caused his death.

Two other men also face charges in Hatab's death.

Paulus faces a court-martial next month on charges of dereliction of duty and assault, and two charges of cruelty and maltreatment. He could get 51/2 years if convicted. Whitehorse base commander Maj. Michael Froeder faces charges of negligence and abuse of prisoners.