Detained Iraqi appeared OK, say witnesses during hearing

3 Marines could face court-martial in death

By James W. Crawley

January 31, 2004

CAMP PENDLETON Two intelligence experts testified yesterday that an Iraqi prisoner captured and guarded by Marines was in good health when they questioned him and that they saw no mistreatment of the man, who died a day later.

Three Marines an officer, a sergeant and a lance corporal have been the focus of a preliminary hearing at Camp Pendleton this week to determine whether they should be court-martialed in the June 5 death of Baath Party member Nagem Sadoon Hatab at the Camp White Horse detention facility near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Maj. Clarke Paulus and Lance Cpl. Christian Hernandez are charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and assault. Paulus also is accused of making a false statement. Sgt. Gary Pittman is accused of dereliction of duty and assault.

Prosecutors claim Hatab died after he was assaulted and pulled by his neck while being moved from one holding area to another and died from a swollen windpipe. Defense witnesses suggested his death was caused by an acute asthma attack.

Paulus was the officer in charge of the detention center, where Hernandez and Pittman were guards. In all, eight Marines from the 2nd Battalion of the 25th Marines, a reserve unit from New York, were charged in connection with the treatment of Iraqis at Camp White Horse. The rest await further hearings or courts-martial.

Hatab was considered a high-profile prisoner because he sold an M-16 assault rifle, captured from the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed in Nasiriyah on the third day of the Iraq war. Pfc. Jessica Lynch was a member of the unit.

Yesterday, two members of a Human Exploitation Team intelligence experts who interrogated prisoners and others in Iraq described how they captured and questioned Hatab in early June.

The Marine Corps required, as a condition of being allowed to report on the hearing, that the two noncommissioned officers' names and units not be revealed for national-security reasons.

Hatab showed no signs of abuse or mistreatment when he was interviewed by interrogators, said an intelligence staff sergeant.

"He was a little scared," the staff sergeant said. "He had an arrogance about him; he didn't want to talk to us."

His partner, a sergeant, testified that Hatab "seemed a little tired" during the 90-minute session.

Two guards testified that Hatab and the two Iraqis were forced to stand much of the night between the time they were captured and the interrogation.

Called "50-10," the procedure required detainees to stand for 50 minutes, then sit for 10 minutes, for several hours. Prosecutors claim the standing treatment is a form of torture.

But one guard, Cpl. Otis Antoine, said Hatab wouldn't stand up for the "50-10" treatment, so he let him and the others remain seated during his guard duty. He also said that the second time he guarded the men, Hatab was the only prisoner who refused to drink water or eat.

Antoine never saw Hatab hit or kicked while in captivity, he testified.

The other guard, Lance Cpl. Angel Flores, testified that he saw Hatab naked, soiled by feces and prostrate in an outdoor holding pen the afternoon before he died, and that the temperature was above 100 degrees. Flores said he watched Hatab but did not summon help.

His testimony was stopped when a defense attorney for Hernandez suggested that the lance corporal's statements might incriminate him for cruelty and maltreatment, and dereliction of duty charges filed against his client.

The hearing officer, Col. William Gallo, agreed, and after a prosecutor read Flores a warning, he invoked his right against self-incrimination. An earlier written statement by Flores was allowed in evidence.

The hearing continues Monday.

James W. Crawley:
(619) 542-4559;