2 U.S. Troops Charged in Murder of Iraqis

CBS News

November 20, 2008, Vilseck, Germany – Two U.S. soldiers have been charged by the military with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder relating to the shooting deaths of four Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad in early 2007 in what was allegedly a retaliation killing.

According to a statement released Thursday by the U.S. Army Joint Multinational Command office in Germany, Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, 27, and Sgt. Charles Quigley, 28, both formerly of the 1st Batt., 18th Inf. Regiment, will face the charges at a general courts-martial.

The charges were referred to the courts-martial on Nov. 17, 2008, following the conclusion of an Article 32 investigation that began Aug. 28 at the Rose Barracks Courthouse in Vilseck, Germany, according to the statement.

The military said no date had been set for the court-martials hearings.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi al Qaeda in Iraq leader blamed in the 2004 abduction and murder of a U.S. Army reservist and several other attacks over several years has been killed in Baghdad, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Hajji Hammadi, also known as Hammadi Awdah Abd Farhan and Abd-al-Salam Ahmad Abdallah al-Janabi, was killed with another armed insurgent on Nov. 11 in a raid by U.S. forces acting on a tip in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood, according to a statement.

The abduction of Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was one of the most high-profile against American forces in Iraq.

The 20-year-old private first class was seized when his fuel convoy was attacked by insurgents in Iraq on April 19, 2004, as the insurgency was gaining strength. Al-Jazeera later aired a videotape in April 2004 showing him wearing camouflage and a floppy desert hat, sitting on a floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.

Cunningham and Quigley are two of seven American soldiers allegedly involved in the incidents which took place in April and May of 2007.

Spc. Steven Ribordy, 25, of Salina, Kansas pleaded guilty early in October to charges of accessory to murder and was sentenced to eight months in prison for his role in the killings.

The four Iraqis were bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a canal in Baghdad.

Ribourdy was also to receive a bad conduct discharge from the Army as part of his plea deal. He also agreed to testify against other members of his unit.

Ribordy testified that he had helped stand guard as the prisoners were killed by other members of his patrol in early 2007. He said he approached the scene after the shots were fired and saw three bodies lying in a pool of blood, and then the fourth nearer to the canal.

Ribordy told the court he saw three other members of the patrol – Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. – at the scene and smelled gunpowder in the air.

“They all seemed calm,” he said.

Ribordy testified that he helped move one of the bodies to the edge of the canal, then push it in.

“I wasn’t ordered or asked in any way, shape or form to move the body,” he told the court. “I wanted to get it done and get out of there – I didn’t want anybody getting in trouble.”

He told judge Col. Timothy Grammel that he was now sorry for his actions.

All seven soldiers allegedly involved were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq. They are now part of the Germany-based 172nd Infantry Brigade.

In September, another soldier charged with conspiracy to commit murder, Spc. Belmor Ramos, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months in prison and given a dishonorable discharge. Ramos, 23, testified he had stood guard as the killings were carried out.

Ramos, of Clearfield, Utah, was given the relatively lenient sentence as part of a deal under which he will also testify against others alleged to have been involved in the killings.

Ramos and Ribordy were in the same Humvee during the killings – Ramos manning the machine-gun turret and Ribordy at the wheel, Ribordy testified.

At Ramos’ trial and August hearings for Cunningham and Quigley, witnesses said four Iraqi men were bound, blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal – killings prosecutors said were in retribution for casualties in the unit.

During the Article 32 hearings for Cunningham and Quigley, soldiers who were on the patrol said that the four unidentified Iraqis – likely Sunnis – were taken into custody after a shootout with insurgents and taken to the unit’s operating base near Baghdad. Later that night, members of the patrol took the four men out to a remote location and killed them, witnesses said.

Hatley, Mayo, and Leahy were all charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.

Leahy’s Article 32 proceedings, to determine if there is enough evidence for him to be sent before a court-martial, was to have taken place on Nov. 12, but no dates for the other two soldiers’ hearings had been set.

Hatley and Leahy were also charged with one count each of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in a separate killing near Baghdad in January 2007.

Leahy was also charged with being an accessory after the fact in that incident, a September statement from the Army said, without providing more details.

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