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Apr-11-2008 19:12printcomments

EXCLUSIVE: Pendleton 8 Exposed, Part 2

Were the Marines charged with unlawful killings at Hamdania, Iraq coerced and forced into giving self-damning testimony?
Marine Corps Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins has been central to the case. The jury could not at first decide.

(CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.) - We pick up now where we left off in the timeline of events surrounding the incident that put far too many Marines in prison for killing the enemy. If you didn’t see Part 1 yesterday, you can find it here: Pendleton 8 Exposed - The Real Story, Part 1

January 18, 2007: Marine Pleads Guilty to Iraqi Kidnap, Murder

“The Marine said ‘Someone’ fired a shot,” and then he and the others in the squad opened fire. Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III went up to the victim to make sure he was dead, [Cpl Trent] Thomas said.

“Sgt. Hutchins shot Mr. Awad with a three-round burst to the head to do the dead-check,” he said.

According to Thomas’ testimony Sgt. Hutchins did not order anyone to shoot, as testified by the others. Those who made plea deals can’t seem to get the prosecution’s version straight.

January 26, 2007: NCIS Agent Testifies Notes Conflict With Witness Statement.

Special agent Michael Austin testifies that notes he took during an interview with a witness for the prosecution of Lt. Phan (for the second assault mentioned yesterday) are in partial conflict with the official statement the government attributes to the witness. The official statement prepared by another agent who questioned Lance Cpl. Faulkner says Faulkner reported seeing a sergeant choking the detainee and that the Lieutenant (Phan) being prosecuted was watching.

“That’s not what was in my notes,” Austin said. “Faulkner testified before Austin, saying the official statement prepared by the Navy and Marine Corps’ law enforcement agency and attributed to him contains a falsehood …”

Lance Cpl. Faulkner said he provided a subsequent affidavit to Phan’s attorneys because the government statement “contained a lie.”

Phan’s attorneys contend that three statements prepared By NCIS agents contain fabrications. Three enlisted Marines contend the official statements attributed to them are incorrect in asserting that they witnessed Lt. Phan committing an assault.

Defense attorney, Lt. Col. Matthew Cord, said a witness in law enforcement would testify that failing to audiotape or videotape witness statements or interrogations is considered by law enforcement experts as unethical and a breach of proper protocol.

Defense attorney David Sheldon said that NCIS agents “should be able to comply with the standards of law enforcement today.” He said he believed the prosecution’s case was in shambles.

If the prosecution’s case against Phan was in shambles, so should the case have been against Sgt. Hutchins and his squad. This casts more doubt on NCIS and its questionable practices. It has now been proven that NCIS agents are fallible; (read testimony by Agent Michael Austin again). Yet, the military judge and convening authority continued to ignore the prosecutor’s lack of corroborative evidence and blindly followed its lead. There is more than enough reasonable doubt.

February 7, 2007: “Hamdania Marines Pressured to Gather Intelligence, Ferret Out Insurgents.”

“The alleged crimes occurred after the combat-trained unit was abruptly transferred from one area of Iraq to a region described as a hotbed of insurgent activity and told to ferret out terrorists and produce actionable intelligence.”

“Thomas and the four other men who have pleaded guilty have testified that on the night Awad was killed, the seven marines and their U.S. Navy medical corpsman [had devised a plan] to break into the home of a suspected insurgent named Saleh Gowad.”

Let’s take a look at that. Thomas says in his (coerced and forced) testimony that the entire squad made a plan to break in. Why, then, was the prosecution saying they knocked first?

“Staff Sgt. David Tremorshuizen testified that Phan and his men were responsible for ‘a huge area to cover’ and were consistently developing solid tactical intelligence that he would pass further up the chain of Command.”

Denial of responsibility for the mission at Hamdania forced the Junior leader, Sgt. Hutchins, to unjustly bear the burden of a failure in leadership by Senior Commanders.

February 7, 2007: Bacos Testifies for Government Against Marine Corporal.

NCIS Special Agent James Connolly testifies that two days after the incident a flier, written in Arabic, was distributed in Hamdania by an “unknown source.” But, on the 16th of February–just a week later–he testifies that he had met with Awad’s “family members” and learned that the fliers had been handed out by members of the platoon! The Court again ignored false assertions by agent Connolly.

February 8, 2007: Cpl. Thomas withdraws his guilty plea. New Charges Coming Against Marine.

Thomas says he believes he was “acting under the color of lawful authority.” He told the judge, “Sir, when my country gives me an order, I follow it.”

Defense attorney Joseph Low said Thomas had an epiphany after the first day of his sentencing hearing, which featured damaging testimony from another squad member.

On Wednesday, the 7th, Bacos testifies that Thomas played an instrumental role in carrying out the kidnapping and murder.

David Glazier, a professor who teaches the Law of War, said, “If those more junior folks were accepting the fact they were not following a lawful order, it seems to me even harder for the second-most senior (Thomas) to turn around and say, “I thought I was following a lawful order.”

Mr. Glazier wasn’t aware that the Court would blindly follow the path laid out for it by NCIS.

February 9, 2007: Job of Seating a Jury Complicated After Guilty Pleas Withdrawn.

Gary Solis said “a key challenge in the wake of Thursday’s plea withdrawals by Cpl. Trent Thomas is finding an untainted jury pool.”

Eugene Fidell, President of the National Institute of Military Justice, said that “Guilty pleas are policed very carefully to prevent overreaching…There is a history of cases in which military defendants were deemed to have been unduly pressured to plead guilty.”

February 12, 2007: Marine Discusses the Killing of an Innocent Iraqi Man.

The government allows Cpl. Thomas to give CNN’s Jason Carroll a televised interview.

How can one claim to seek truth, or justice, when they allow one Marine, awaiting sentencing, to go before the public with his story while there remain two Marines yet to be heard? The upper chain of command failed to protect the right of these Marines to a fair and impartial trial.

Jason Carroll said Thomas wouldn’t answer whether he was under orders but after the interview Carroll had a “private” conversation with Thomas’ attorney. “At the time it was off the record,” he said. One day after the interview, Thomas changed his plea to not guilty and told the military judge he was following instructions from his squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins, and an unidentified Lieutenant.

Sgt. Hutchins followed orders from his Platoon leader, Lieutenant Phan. Cpl. Thomas’ disobeyed the only actual order given to him by Sgt. Hutchins: to bring Gowad to him to be identified .

February 13, 2007: Lance Cpl. Pennington’s Court-Martial.

Pennington denied murdering the victim and “entered the guilty pleas under an agreement with prosecutors, who planned to dismiss charges of murder, larceny and housebreaking If Pennington testifies against his co-defendants.”

Pennington said he was a willing player in the plan. He said Hutchins asked all eight members of the squad if they wanted to participate.

Pennington said Sgt. Hutchins stated that “if any of you have a problem with any of this, we will cancel this whole thing, and there will be no hard feelings about it.”

He added, “We treated what was to be done as a mission, planned it, briefed it, and executed it as a mission.” That’s because it was a mission!

Thomas, who initially testified that he agreed to it, changed his mind months later, after his attorney engineered a new tactical move, and said he was ordered. Bacos testified they all agreed.

NO one seems to be able to get the prosecution’s version straight.

Pennington’s attorney, David Brahms, challenged special agent Connolly’s methods in preparing a sworn statement attributed to Pennington. Connolly testified that he interviewed Pennington while another agent took notes. He then prepared a written ‘version’ of the statement from his memory and her notes. The session was not recorded.

NCIS agents, in a case receiving an incredible amount of media attention and public scrutiny, decided not to tape any of the interrogations, and typed up statements to be used in court from nothing but their memory and brief notes. What’s more, they did this hours after the interrogation had been completed. This is inexcusable.

To use an archaic, unreliable method such as this, when dealing with a Marine’s life, is a crime in itself.

February 17, 2007: Pennington Gets 8 Years in Hamdania Killing.

The sentence was the most severe handed down. “The judge granted Pennington an additional three months credit for time served because of a determination that he was initially held in the brig under unnecessarily strict conditions.”

Sgt. Hutchins was held for fourteen months in the brig under the same unnecessarily strict conditions while awaiting trial yet no one granted him relief.

Note : Congressman William Delahunt, recognizing the disparity between sentences of the P8, placed commentary on his own website stating that he was committed to ensuring “that Sgt. Hutchins receives due process in the Court-Martial proceedings, and in the event of a conviction, a fair and just disposition of the charges that is consistent with the disposition of the charges in the cases of the majority of his co-defendants.

“Sgt. Hutchins did Not receive fair or just disposition of the charges; nor was his sentence consistent with the disposition of the charges in the cases of the majority of his co-defendants, who all walk free today.”

Congressman Delahunt stated that Sgt. Hutchins case would now be in the hands of the court-martial’s convening authority, General James Mattis.

Under the UCMJ, “General Mattis has the authority to vacate or reduce any finding made at the court-martial including the murder conviction, and may also vacate or reduce the sentence.”

The panel members and military judge denied Sgt. Hutchins relief for time served. One would expect the most Senior of Commanders, who admitted making a mistake incarcerating this Marine fourteen months previous to his trial, to share some responsibility and correct the injustice.

February 18, 2007: It’s the Longest Term Yet in the Slaying of Iraqi Man.

“Though Pennington didn’t fire at Awad, he was portrayed as being instrumental in shaping the plot that led to his death.” So much for Thomas’ testimony that he was “ordered” to go on the mission. His only “order” was to bring the man to the Sergeant to be identified.

“In addition, a co-defendant testified that Pennington mocked Awad’s bullet-riddled brain and played with the man’s hand as he put the corpse Into a body bag.”

How did the body get from being in a body bag, to being left at the scene as evidence against the accused? If the Marines had faked a firefight they wouldn’t leave the body at the scene in a body bag. They would only put a deceased in a body bag if they planned to turn it over to someone.

February 27, 2007 (a): Federal Agent Testifies Marine said He Shot Iraqi Man in Head.

Special agent James Connolly said Sgt. Hutchins was not under suspicion and had “volunteered” the information as they walked the scene of the shooting. (See February 27, 2007) (c).

Connolly said Marine higher-ups initially told him they thought the death had been a lawful killing and that the Iraqis were lying to receive compensation.

“A Marine spokesman would not comment on ‘when it is acceptable’ to perform a dead check on a suspected insurgent.”

According to that statement, a dead check is sanctioned; it is acceptable.

February 27, 2007 (b) : Hutchins Told Agent He Performed ‘Death Check’.

Connolly said he never before heard a reference to a “dead check”, and initially had no idea what it meant. “I didn’t know what the standard procedure was for these dead checks.”

An NCIS Special Agent with twenty years’ experience professed ignorance of a dead check?

Perhaps “Special” agent Connolly should have read the November 24-30, 2004 article “Dead-Check in Fallujah: Embedded With the Marines in Iraq.”

Perhaps “Special” agent Connolly should have questioned Cpl. Saul Lopezromo, who testified (July 15, 2007). Article: Marine Says Officers Ordered to ‘Crank Up’ Violence Level in Iraq. “Lopezromo said a procedure called “dead-checking” was routine. If Marines entered a house where a man was wounded, instead of checking to see whether he needed medical aid, they shot him to make sure he was dead, he testified.”

“Video of a Marine dead-checking an insurgent in a Mosque in Fallujah, 2004:” Reporter Evan Wright states, “One thing military officials are not saying is that behavior of the Marine in the video closely conforms to training that is fairly standard in some units. Marines call executing wounded combatants “dead-checking…” In fact, commanders in the Marine Corps during the period I was embedded with them in the spring of 2003 repeatedly emphasized that the men’s actions would not be questioned. As one of the officers in the unit I followed used to tell his men, “You will be held accountable for the facts not as they are in hindsight but as they appeared to you at the time.”

“One of the eight men charged in the case told investigators the platoon had abducted Awad and planted a stolen shovel and AK-47 rifle next to the body.”

But Pennington’s testimony (February 18th) that they put the deceased in a body bag defeats the prosecution’s plea deal testimony of a faked firefight with body left at the scene.

Connolly stated: “With Haditha in the news, he wanted to make sure the right things were done.”

February 27, 2007 (c) : Agent Says Hutchins Told Him He Shot Dying Man Three Times.

“Connolly and another agent testified that Hutchins asked for an attorney at one point while being questioned, prompting the interrogation to stop. A few days later, they said, he volunteered to make a statement in which he allegedly admitted his role in the plot.”

Previous defense testimony and pleas concerning coerced interrogations of clients were ignored by the Court. They had no attorneys in Iraq. The interrogation should never have been continued again unless, or until, the Sergeant was granted his Constitutional right to presence of counsel.

“The defense contends the statement should not be admitted because Hutchins had earlier asked for an attorney and that it was made under duress.”

Any statement made from that point forward would have been under duress. NCIS agents knew there was no attorney available in Iraq. Agent Connolly previously stated Sgt. Hutchins had “already volunteered” a statement. Coercion is the only way to ask any more of a suspect.

February 28, 2007: Manual for Upcoming Detainees.

As required by law, the manual prohibits statements to be obtained from terrorist detainees by torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as prohibited by the Constitution. However, the law does allow statements obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before December 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge.

Our Marines were denied rights granted to the enemy.

For those of you who missed the first installment of this special series, here is the link: Pendleton 8 Exposed - The Real Story, Part 1


Kit Lange is an Air Force veteran and military writer who specializes in investigating murder cases stemming from actions in combat. Her work was used as evidence in the Lt. Ilario Pantano case, and has been quoted extensively in other news publications for other cases. In 2005, she co-wrote a 10-part series disproving war crime allegations against an elite Army unit; her blog,, was named as one of the top 10 milblogs of the year. She is also the National Web Coordinator for Gathering of Eagles, a nationally-recognized troop support organization. Kit holds a degree in Aircraft Maintenance Technology from Spartan College of Aeronautics, and is currently working on a second degree in Aviation Technology Management. She resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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