A US Marines unit frustrated by the hunt for insurgents east of Baghdad picked on an innocent man, bound his hands and feet, threw him into a roadside hole and shot him in the head at least 10 times, according to the testimony of a unit medic being court-martialled at his home base in California.
Petty Officer Melson Bacos, 21, received a 10-year prison sentence for his role in the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the town of Hamdaniya last April. In exchange for his testimony, however, that was reduced to no more than one year of actual time served. Seven members of the unit are awaiting their own courts martial in a case that crystallises much of the random violence of the Iraq occupation.
Bacos described how his unit was hunting for a suspected insurgent who had eluded them three times. When a house they were searching turned out to be empty, he said, they decided to seize one of the neighbours and pretend they had caught him planting a roadside bomb.
As he described Mr Awad's abduction and murder, he said his comrades pressed the dead man's fingerprints on the barrel of an AK-47 assault rifle as well as on a shovel that they threw into the hole after him.
Bacos said he tried to tell his commanders to stop, but Corporal Marshall Magincalda - who has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and murder and awaits his own trial - told him not to be a "pussy". Bacos acknowledged firing the AK-47 in the air to make it look as if Mr Awad had been attacking the troops when he was shot.
A soft-spoken Bacos said: "I wanted to be a respected corpsman, but that is no excuse for immorality."