CAMP SPEICHER, Iraq - Prosecutors opened their case Sunday against a U.S. soldier charged with premeditated murder, accusing him of fatally shooting an Iraqi detainee in the head and chest and watching as a comrade set fire to the body with an incendiary grenade.
The hearing for 1st Lt. Michael C. Behenna, 25, at Camp Speicher, a large U.S. base in northern Iraq, will determine whether there is enough evidence for a court-martial. It was scheduled to continue Monday, but it wasn't clear when the investigating officer would make his decision.
Military prosecutors accused Behenna, from Edmond, Okla., of taking his prisoner, Ali Mansour Mohammed, to a remote desert location, stripping him naked, firing two pistol rounds at him and watching as another soldier, Staff Sgt. Hal M. Warner of Braggs, Okla., set off the grenade under his head. Prosecutors also accused Behenna of trying to cover up the alleged killing.
Behenna, in uniform, sat through the hearing in silence. One of his four defense lawyers said he maintains his innocence.
"He intends to fight the charges," said lawyer Kyle Sampson.
The key testimony came from the only witness to the alleged crime, an Iraqi translator identified only as "Harry" who told the hearing that he saw Behenna shoot Mohammed in a tunnel on May 16. Harry's real name was not revealed to protect his identify; Harry said Iraqi translators for U.S. forces are at risk of being killed by their countrymen as traitors.
Harry testified that Behenna had his first contact with Mohammed on May 5, when he and other soldiers tracked him down at his home because they believed he had ties with insurgents. A local sheik who helped them locate Mohammed said he was a "very bad person," Harry said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Harry said Behenna "used his helmet to hit (Mohammed) in the center of his back over and over again in the same place."
Behenna stopped once Mohammed produced 14 or 15 names of alleged insurgents, and he then blindfolded him and took him to his forward operating base, Summerall.