US Marine claims unit killed Iraqi civilians. 08/12/2004. ABC News Online

US Marine claims unit killed Iraqi civilians. 08/12/2004. ABC News Online

US Marine claims unit killed Iraqi civilians

A former US Marine said his unit killed more than 30 innocent Iraqi civilians in just two days, in graphic testimony to a Canadian tribunal probing an asylum claim by a US Army deserter.

Former Marine Sergeant Jimmy Massey appeared as a witness to bolster claims by fugitive paratrooper Jeremy Hinzman that he walked out on the 82nd Airborne Division to avoid being ordered to commit war crimes in Iraq.

Mr Hinzman, 26, claims he would face persecution if sent home to the United States, in a politically charged case which could set a precedent for at least two other US deserters seeking asylum in Canada.

Mr Massey told Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) that men under his command in the 3rd battalion, 7th Marines, killed “30 plus” civilians within 48 hours while on checkpoint duty in Baghdad.

“I do know that we killed innocent civilians,” Mr Massey told the tribunal, relating the chaotic days after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Mr Massey said that in some incidents, Iraqi civilians were killed by between 200 and 500 rounds pumped into four separate cars which each failed to respond to a single warning shot and respond to hand signals at a Baghdad checkpoint.

At the time, US soldiers feared suicide bombers would try to ram checkpoints, he said.

Searches found no weapons in the vehicles or evidence that those killed were anything but innocent civilians, he said.

He also said Marines killed four unarmed demonstrators, and more Iraqis the next day during another spell of checkpoint duty in the occupied Iraqi capital.

“I was never clear on who was the enemy and who was not,” said Mr Massey.

“When you don’t know who the enemy is, what are you doing there?” asked the former Marine, later honourably discharged from the service with severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Hinzman earlier argued in the tribunal, which started on Monday and was due to end Wednesday, that he gradually realised after joining the Army in 2001 that he could not bring himself to kill another person.

“I was faced with being deployed to Iraq to do what the infantry does, kill people, and I had no justification for doing so,” said Mr Hinzman.

Mr Hinzman and his wife and two-year-old son arrived in Canada early this year, after deserting from his unit, an action which carries a maximum five-year term in jail.

The South Dakota-born soldier is claiming refugee status based on his contention that he was right to refuse to fight in a war which he says was illegal and violated human rights and the Geneva Conventions.

He also claims he would face persecution if returned home to face desertion charges.

Mr Hinzman first requested conscientious objector status in 2002 before learning he was to be posted to Afghanistan, where he eventually made 18 combat parachute jumps.

The following year, the request was rejected, and late in 2003 he learned he was to be deployed to Iraq, prompting his flight to Canada.

Odds against him winning the case are slim, as no such verdict has ever been handed to a US soldier here or to a combatant in a non-conscription army.

The IRB was set up to consider the merits of refugee claims at arms length from the Canadian Government.

Presiding member Brian Goodman signalled on Tuesday he would ask for written submissions from Mr Hinzman’s counsel, a government lawyer and a refugee officer, thereby ruling out a judgement on the case on Wednesday.

Mr Goodman will decide whether Hinzman would face persecution if sent back to the United States by dint of political or religious beliefs or his status as an objector to US military action.

The judgement will also question whether Mr Hinzman will face “cruel and unusual” punishment, during what would likely be a long prison term.