Vela is one of three soldiers from the same sniper team who are accused of premeditated murder in three shootings this spring. Their cases have provided a picture of mentally exhausted troops and the role they allegedly played in a "baiting program," in which snipers are believed to have planted fake weapons and bomb-making materials, then killed anyone who picked them up.
The alleged tactic was revealed in a hearing in July that eventually sent Hensley and Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr. to face court-martial on murder charges. The Pentagon refuses to speak publicly about baiting or other such tactics, but insists that military practices are within the law.
"My client is no murderer. He is a victim," said James Culp, Vela's civilian defense attorney, who suspects that baiting contributed to the slaying of the Iraqi man on May 11.
The above is from Ned Parker's "Soldier describes killing unarmed Iraqi" (Los Angeles Times) and, no, the kill teams were not revealed in July. The press didn't write about them until this week . . . unless they were covering James Burmeister in June. PvZ, who also can't be bothered with mentioning James Burmeister, does a far better job of covering it in this morning's New York Times with "Testimony in Court-Martial Describes a Sniper Squad Pressed to Raise Body Count:"
During a separate hearing here in July, Sgt. Anthony G. Murphy said he and other First Battalion snipers felt "an underlying tone" of disappointment from field commanders seeking higher enemy body counts.
"It just kind of felt like, 'What are you guys doing wrong out there?'" he said at the time.
That attitude among superiors changed earlier this year after Sergeant Hensley, an expert marksman, became a team leader, according to soldiers’ testimony. Though sometimes unorthodox, soldiers said, Sergeant Hensley and other snipers around him began racking up many more kills, pleasing the commanders.
Soldiers also testified that battalion commanders authorized a classified new technique that used fake explosives and detonation wires as "bait" to lure and kill suspected insurgents around Iskandariya, a hostile Sunni Arab region south of Baghdad.
As their superiors sought less restrictive rules of engagement -- to legalize the combat killing of anyone who made a soldier "feel threatened," for example, instead of showing hostile intent or actions -- the baiting program, as it was known, succeeded in killing more Iraqis suspected of being terrorists, soldiers testified.
But testimony in proceedings for Sergeant Hensley and, on Thursday, for Specialist Sandoval, both of whom face murder charges in connection with separate killings of Iraqi men last spring, suggest that as the integrity of the battalion’s secret baiting program began to crack, so did Sergeant Hensley.
In the days before media consolidation, possibly the editors of either reporters would be screaming, "Get a hold of Burmeister!" But in these days of soft competition, who has to worry when you're the only game in town?
The illegal contract ("illegal" is the term the Iraqi government used for it) Hunt Oil was hot for is the subject of Alissa J. Rubin and Andrew E. Kramer's "Official Calls Kurd Oil Deal at Odds With Baghdad" (New York Times):
A senior State Department official in Baghdad acknowledged Thursday that the first American oil contract in Iraq, that of the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas with the Kurdistan Regional Government, was at cross purposes with the stated United States foreign policy of strengthening the country’s central government.
"We believe these contracts have needlessly elevated tensions between the K.R.G. and the national government of Iraq," the official said, referring to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The official was not authorized to speak for attribution on the oil contract.
AP reports that puppet of the occupation, Nouri al-Maliki, is rejecting the call by the US Senate to split Iraq into three sections. Don't get too excited, he'll mouth off only until his strings are pulled as evidenced by his backdown on the issue of Blackwater.
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