WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii – A Hawaii-based soldier accused of killing an unarmed Iraqi last year admitted shooting the man, but said he believed it was justified after the Iraqi tried to flee the backyard of a house the soldier's platoon had just raided in search of insurgents.
Sgt. 1st Class Trey Corrales, who is being court-martialed for premeditated murder, said Thursday that he told the man in Arabic to freeze and to put his hands in the air, but the man started to run.
Corrales, of San Antonio, said he then raised his weapon and fired four shots at him.
"I knew it was a hostile area," Corrales told the nine-member panel serving on the military justice system's equivalent of a jury. "I knew he couldn't be up to anything good."
He said he acted on instinct.
Corrales has also been charged with wrongfully soliciting another soldier to shoot the Iraqi man and with wrongfully obstructing an investigation by planting an AK-47 on the victim. He has pleaded not guilty to all three charges.
Prosecutors have argued Corrales deliberately took the man from the house to its backyard after the Iraqi's hands tested positive for explosives. They say Corrales told the man to run and then shot him.
The incident happened during a late-night raid on a house near Kirkuk in northern Iraq that lasted until the early hours of June 23. The Army hasn't been able to identify the man.
Corrales' unit, the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, deployed to the region for 15 months starting in the summer of 2006. Corrales acted as the leader for an elite scout platoon tasked with reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
He said he believed he acted correctly in shooting the man, but acknowledged he was troubled afterward when he learned the man was unarmed.
"I knew it was a gray area of the (rules of engagement), but if you're going to get into a fight with someone and they don't fight back it doesn't feel too good inside," Corrales said.
The sergeant also admitted to threatening to kill the man earlier during interrogation inside the house.
But he said he only did so as a tactic to get the man to tell him where he had hidden AK-47s Corrales believed had been used to fire at U.S. helicopters earlier in the day. Corrales said he didn't intend to follow through on the threat.
He said he didn't know how the man managed to get to the backyard after he questioned him.
A Honolulu-based forensic psychologist called by the defense, Marvin Acklin, said that at the time of the shooting Corrales was worried an insurgent might still have been in the backyard.
He said the sergeant also expected a hostile confrontation as the platoon raided the house.
With that in mind, Acklin said he believed Corrales "acted appropriately according to his training in response to a situation as he understood it."
Earlier Thursday, an Iraqi interpreter for the platoon testified that Corrales called him out of the house to the backyard where he was standing with the Iraqi man.
Essa Ahmed, who flew to Hawaii for the court-martial, said Corrales asked him for the Arabic word for "run."
When Ahmed told Corrales it was "orkuth," the sergeant repeated it to the man, prompting the man to say: "Why, Mister? Why, Mister?"
Ahmed said he went back inside the house and then heard four shots fired.
The court recessed after the defense and prosecution finished calling their witnesses Thursday. Closing arguments were set for Friday.