US soldier convicted in murder of four Iraqi detainees

By George Frey
Associated Press / April 16, 2009
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VILSECK, Germany - A US Army soldier was convicted yesterday of murder in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees.

The prosecution said Master Sergeant John Hatley acted as "judge, jury, and executioner" to hatch the plot and carry out the killings in spring 2007. Hatley and two others took the detainees to a canal in Baghdad's West Rasheed neighborhood where they shot them in the back of the head with 9mm pistols, the prosecution said.

An eight-strong military jury found Hatley guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder after three days of proceedings.

But the jury found him not guilty of obstruction of justice in the incident and not guilty of premeditated murder in a separate January 2007 death of an Iraqi insurgent.

Hatley and his wife, who sat behind him, were unmoved as the jury foreman read the decision. The 40-year-old career soldier, who served in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, and in Iraq, will be sentenced today in Germany. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Hatley, who has been in the Army for 20 years, had denied the charges. He could see any sentence reduced through a future military clemency process. Military cases also go through an automatic appeal process.

Army prosecutor Captain Derrick Grace said testimony had pointed to "a complete breakdown of discipline and crimes that are among the worst of a soldier."

"On two separate occasions, the accused became the judge, jury, and executioner," he said.

Prosecutors said Hatley oversaw the shootings of detainees and had told his comrades they were going to "take care" of the Iraqis.

Hatley's lawyer David Court told the court-martial yesterday that there was no physical evidence that the killings ever happened: no witnesses, family members, bullet casings, blood, or witnesses.

According to testimony this week and at previous courts-martial, the four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley's unit and the discovery of weapons in a building where suspects had fled.

Two soldiers in Hatley's unit were convicted of the killings at separate courts-martial earlier this year.