Under a program developed by a Defense Department warfare unit, Army snipers have begun using a new method to kill Iraqis suspected of being insurgents, using fake weapons and bomb-making material as bait and then killing anyone who picks them up, according to testimony presented in a military court.

The existence of the classified “baiting program,” as it has come to be known, was disclosed as part of defense lawyers’ efforts to respond to murder charges the Army pressed this summer against three members of a Ranger sniper team. Each soldier is accused of killing an unarmed Iraqi in three separate shootings between April and June near Iskandariya, and with planting “drop weapons” like detonation wires or other incriminating evidence on the bodies of the victims.

In sworn statements, soldiers testifying for the defense have said the sniper team was employing a “baiting program” developed at the Pentagon by the Asymmetrical Warfare Group, which met with Ranger sniper teams in Iraq in January and gave equipment to them.

The Washington Post described the baiting program on Monday.

An Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Monday that the Army did not publicly discuss specific methods for “targeting enemy combatants,” and that no classified program authorized the use of “drop weapons” to make a killing appear justified. Army officers involved in evidentiary hearings in Baghdad in July did not dispute the existence or use of a baiting program.

The court-martial of one accused soldier, Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., is scheduled to begin in Baghdad on Wednesday. The two other soldiers facing premeditated murder charges are Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, the sniper team squad leader, and Sgt. Evan Vela. All three are part of the headquarters of the First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

None of the soldiers deny that they killed the three Iraqis they are charged with murdering. Through their lawyers and in court documents, the soldiers say the killings were legal and authorized by their superiors. But defense lawyers raised the issue of the baiting program in response to prosecutors’ allegations that the soldiers had planted items, like wire for making bombs, on the bodies of the victims. (MORE)


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