The U.S. Military in Iraq has been placing ordnance such a gun on the ground where there is foot traffic, and then a U.S. sniper kills an individual who picks the item up. Now snipers are being accused of murder although they say they were following orders.
"It's an injustice that is being done to them," Carnahan said. "I feel like you can't prosecute our soldiers for acts of war and threaten them with years and years of confinement when this program, if it comes to the light of day, was clearly coming from higher levels. . . . All those people who said 'go use this stuff' just disappeared, like they never sanctioned it."
scroll down for a second article on this topic
U.S. Aims To Lure Insurgents With 'Bait'
Snipers Describe Classified Program
By Josh White and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 24, 2007; A01
A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.
The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.
"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces."
In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the "drop items" to be used "to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight."
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined "quite meticulously" because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.
"In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back," Fidell said.
Soldiers said that about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that numerous others knew about the "drop items" but did not know their purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a sniper mission, according to the documents.
Army officials declined to discuss the classified program, details of which appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an ammunition can at the sniper unit's base.
"We don't discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."
It is unclear whether the program reached elsewhere in Iraq and how many people were killed through the baiting tactics.
Members of the sniper platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses. The sniper unit -- dubbed "the painted demons" because of the use of tiger-stripe face paint -- often went on missions into hostile areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons caches.
"It's our job out here to lay people down who are doing bad things," Spec. Joshua L. Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit's numerous casualties. "I don't want to call it revenge, but we needed to find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and still maintain the right military things to do."
Within months of the program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate. Though it does not appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have opened the door to the soldiers' actions because it blurred the legal lines of killing in a complex war zone.
James D. Culp, a civilian attorney for one of the snipers, Sgt. Evan Vela, said the soldiers became "battle-fatigued pawns in a newfangled concept of 'baiting' warfare that, like an onion, perhaps looked good on the surface, but started stinking to high hell the minute the layers were pulled back and scrutinized."
Spec. Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are accused by the military of placing a spool of wire into the pocket of an Iraqi man Sandoval had shot on April 27 on Hensley's order. The man had been cutting grass with a rusty sickle when he was shot, according to court documents.
The military alleges that the killing of the man carrying the sickle was inappropriate. Hensley and Sandoval have been charged with murder and with planting evidence.
As Sandoval and Hensley approached the corpse, according to testimony and court documents, they allegedly placed a spool of wire, often used by insurgents to detonate roadside bombs, into the man's pocket in an attempt to make the case for the kill ironclad.
One soldier who came forward with the allegations, Pfc. David C. Petta, told the same court that he believed the classified items were for dropping on people the unit had killed, "to enforce if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but we didn't have the evidence to show for it." Petta had not been officially briefed about the program.
Two weeks after that killing, Sandoval and his sniper team stopped for the night in a concealed "hide" in the village of Jurf as Sakhr along the Euphrates River. While other snipers slept, Hensley watched as an Iraqi man, Genei Nesir Khudair, slowly approached the hide. He radioed to Didier, then a first lieutenant, for permission to go for a "close kill."
"I told him that as the ground forces commander, I would authorize that if it was necessary," Didier testified. "And about five minutes later, he told me that he had indeed killed the individual."
The U.S. military alleges that Vela, on Hensley's order, shot the Iraqi man twice in the head with a 9mm pistol after he had been taken into custody. It was Vela's first kill, and he was visibly shaken. "He looked weird," Sgt. Robert Redfern testified. "Just messed up from it. How would you feel if you had to shoot someone?"
At the time the two shots rang out, Sandoval was on guard duty about 20 meters away, out of sight of Vela, inside a broken-down pump house along the Euphrates River, soldiers testified.
Vela and Hensley told investigators that the man had an AK-47 with him and that he posed a threat, but other soldiers have alleged that the AK-47 was planted next to Khudair after he was shot.
Hensley's attorney could not be reached to comment. Sandoval's attorney, Capt. Craig Drummond, thinks his client is innocent in both deaths.
"Literally, they have charged this guy with two murders when on both occasions he was just doing his job," Drummond said.
Drummond said Sandoval did not have anything to do with placing an AK-47 in the pump-house killing. Sandoval made a statement to investigators discussing his involvement in planting the command wire on the first victim.
"That was done by one of the soldiers at the scene basically out of stupidity. The guys were trying to ensure that there were no questions at all about this kill," Drummond said. "It was done to overly justify a kill that didn't need justification."
Hensley is also charged with killing an Iraqi man whom he approached after the sniper team noticed the man placing wires on a road. Hensley shot him outside his home, maintaining that the man appeared to be moving for a weapon.
Two and a half months after the shooting near the pump house, authorities seized Sandoval while he was vacationing at his mother's house in Laredo, Tex. The charges have baffled family members, who describe Sandoval as a caring and honest young man who is being punished for following orders.
"This has been a shock to all of us," said his eldest sister, Norma Vasquez. "He's been in shock, too, he doesn't know what . . . is going on."
Sandoval, a former high school ROTC member, is scheduled to face a court-martial in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Vela's father, Curtis Carnahan, said he thinks the military is rushing the cases and is holding the proceedings in a war zone to shield facts from the U.S. public.
Charges Against Snipers
Stir Debate on 'Baiting'
Prosecution Causing Uncertainty, Soldiers in Iraq Say
By Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 26, 2007; A15
Spec. Jorge Sandoval lay face down in the foot-high grass, staring through his sniper rifle scope at the Iraqi man holding a rusted sickle. The man had crouched down, only his head was visible. Sandoval's spotter, Staff. Sgt. Michael Hensley, relayed the order to kill.
On April 27, in dangerous terrain south of Baghdad, Sandoval pulled the trigger to fire a bullet hundreds of yards into the man's skull, killing him instantly. Moments earlier, the man, according to testimony and court documents, had been fleeing an attack on U.S. soldiers and was holding the sickle to masquerade as a farmer. After killing him, Sandoval and Hensley allegedly placed a spool of wire -- commonly used to make bombs -- on the man's body to ensure the shooting would not be questioned.
Sandoval's court-martial on premeditated murder charges for this killing is scheduled to begin today in Baghdad. As he and two other snipers face charges of killing Iraqis, legal experts are debating how large a role a classified program of "baiting" their targets played in the cases. The soldiers in the unit had the spool of wire, defense attorneys said, only because the Army's secretive Asymmetric Warfare Group had given it to them -- along with other items, such as plastic explosives and AK-47 rounds -- so the snipers could boost the number of suspected insurgents they killed by shooting whoever picked up the materials.
However, some soldiers serving in Iraq said that the program and the subsequent murder charges have caused them to rethink pulling the trigger in the field out of concern that they could be charged with crimes for doing so. As Sandoval prepared to shoot and Hensley repeatedly asked him if he had the shot, they had to make a split-second decision that U.S. troops have to make on a daily basis: Kill the man and possibly face scrutiny, or let him go and possibly put U.S. service members in jeopardy in the future.
The charges against Sandoval, Hensley and a third sniper, Sgt. Evan Vela, have caused some of their sniper scout platoon's shootings to be questioned, as well.
"I just came to a unit, Delaware, that they will not pull the trigger on people," said Sgt. Andrew G. Murphy III, according to transcripts of a Baghdad court hearing. "Now they're like, 'What's going to happen if?' And I'm like, 'I don't know; I can't tell you. If you feel threatened, take the shot, and I hope, I pray, that your command takes your back, because you have split and milliseconds to make decisions like this.' "
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, 69 U.S. service members have been charged in connection with Iraqi civilian deaths, and 31 have been convicted of a crime, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
Murphy, who has been investigated for one such shooting, testified that snipers in the unit at times felt that they should consider placing some of the classified materials on dead bodies to legitimize shootings that they thought might draw scrutiny. While the unit felt pressure for more kills, it also felt pressure to make them all seem ironclad.
The materials reached the "painted demons" platoon of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, in January, after members of the Asymmetric Warfare Group suggested using them. Officers described the program, in unclassified statements obtained by The Post, as involving the placement of the items in insurgent areas and killing those who picked them up.
The Asymmetric Warfare Group is modeled after the Army's secretive Delta Force and grew out of a decision by Army leaders in 2003 to seek new ways to counter insurgents' use of roadside bombs, snipers and suicide bombs. The group is classified by the Army as a Special Mission Unit and was formally established in January 2006.
The teams, similar to the small, Special Forces A-teams, circulate among military battalions in Iraq, where they teach new counterinsurgency tactics. A more overarching goal of the Asymmetric Warfare Group is to act as a catalyst "to change the way the Army thinks," said one Special Forces officer familiar with the group. It also analyzes new threats, generates new tactics, and identifies gaps in capabilities and equipment, according to the Army.
Retired Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, a former judge advocate general for the Army, said the group's baiting program, as described publicly, opens up the possibility for indiscriminate shootings -- based on little information -- that could lead to the death of scavengers or curious passersby. He said that when troops kill civilians by mistake, it can harm the war effort.
"In those cases where there are lots of questions, sometimes shooting is not the right answer, because it has a huge potential for being indiscriminate," said Romig, now dean of the Washburn University School of Law in Kansas. "When guidance becomes fuzzy and the response is 'When in doubt, shoot,' then we have problems."
Army Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing yesterday that he would not discuss the sniper case, but he noted that U.S. soldiers are not trained to kill indiscriminately. "The laws of land warfare do not include engaging someone simply for picking something up on the battlefield," Sherlock said.
Staff writer Joshua Partlow in Baghdad and researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.