SAN DIEGO – Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges as early as Friday in the shooting death of an Iraqi man, a defense attorney said.
Military prosecutors plan to file the charges against the men, who are being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of here, Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men, said Thursday.
The Iraqi man reportedly was dragged from his home west of Baghdad and shot in April.
The Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and shovel near the body to make it appear the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb. Neither suggested a possible motive for the April 26 killing in Hamandiya.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said Friday that President Bush is aware of the reported incident in Hamandiya. Bush was briefed on that at the end of last week by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Snow said.
The death was unrelated to the November shootings of as many as two dozen civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha. The Pentagon is investigating troops from a different Marine regiment in that case.
Sullivan said he learned from Marine Corps attorneys that the charges against the men in the April death have been drafted and official charging documents could be given to them as early as Friday.
Once charged, defendants have the right to an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.
The eight men served in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and are members of the battalion's Kilo Company. The highest-ranking among them is a staff sergeant.
Sullivan said he is concerned the Haditha case publicity could negatively impact his case.
"There's an assumption that these guys are guilty before there's been an opportunity for a thorough, impartial investigation," said Sullivan, a former Navy JAG who runs a civilian practice in San Diego.
Separately, another group of five Marines in Kilo Company, including a lieutenant who commanded the platoon, are under investigation for injuring a suspect in their custody, said a defense attorney who has been contacted by the family of one of the Marines. He spoke Thursday only on condition of anonymity because he has not taken on the case.
The Marine Corps and Pentagon spokesmen have refused to comment on any aspect of the Iraqi man's death since the investigation was announced May 24.
However, a Pentagon official said Thursday that charges are expected to be brought "very soon." The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss charges before they are filed, could not confirm the specific counts.
When the Pentagon announced it was investigating the death, it provided no details about the incident, though it said "several service members" in the regiment were suspected of involvement. The men were "removed from operations" and sent back to the U.S. pending the results of the criminal investigation, it said.