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From: Bart (
Subject:         Here's another John Hawaii would love -- Army sniper confesses to executing defenseless Iraqi by shooting in head -- FUN!
Date: September 27, 2007 at 10:27 am PST

Soldier describes killing unarmed Iraqi

By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

10:08 AM PDT, September 27, 2007

BAGHDAD -- A member of a U.S. Army sniper team broke down in tears today as he testified before a military court that he shot and killed an unarmed Iraqi man on the orders of his superior.

Sgt. Evan Vela is one of three soldiers accused of premeditated murder in a case that has drawn attention to an alleged "baiting program," in which snipers plant fake weapons and bomb-making materials, then kill anyone who picks them up. The existence of the classified program was revealed in defense testimony for Vela, Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr. and Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, who are charged in the killings of three Iraqis.

Vela was appearing today as a defense witness in the court-martial of Sandoval. He told the court that the five-member team was on the third day of a mission in a dangerous region south of Baghdad when the shooting occurred May 11. They were sleep-deprived and dehydrated, he said.

Vela had been ordered to pull guard duty while the others were sleeping in the dirt at Jaf al-Sakhr, near the town of Iskandariya, when he said the Iraqi man wandered up to them. Vela said he initially froze, then woke up Sandoval, who told him to hold the man at gunpoint while he alerted the rest of the team.

According to Vela's testimony, Hensley, the sniper team leader, ordered the man face down on the ground, put his knee into the man's back, grabbed him by the mouth and told him, "Shut up or we'll kill you."

Hensley then pulled the man's hands behind his back and tied them with rope, Vela said.

The man was kept in this position for at least half an hour, during which a child also wandered up to them and was held on the ground with a poncho over his head until a decision was made to release him, Vela said. Before leaving, the boy allegedly told them that the captive was his father.

Vela said Hensley then ordered him to collect a 9-millimeter pistol from team members stationed at a nearby pump station, untied the man and tilted his head back.

"I had the pistol. He [Hensley] quickly moved out of the way, and I heard the word 'shoot,' " Vela said, in tears. "I don't remember pulling the trigger. I just came to and the guy was dead. It took me a second to realize the shot came from the pistol in my hand."

Vela said the man was still alive after the first shot and convulsing on the ground, so Hensley allegedly ordered him to shoot the man a second time.

After the man was dead, Vela said, Hensley pulled an AK-47 from a backpack and planted it on the body to make it appear that the killing was justified.

All three of the accused are part of the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Ft. Richardson, Alaska. None of them denies killing the three Iraqis, but they had indicated in court documents and through their lawyers that the killings were legal and authorized by their superiors.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zavis contributed to this report.

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