U.S. Army's 'baiting' program in Iraq comes to light
By Paul Von Zielbauer
International Herald Tribune, September 24, 2007
Under a program developed by a Defense Department warfare unit, U.S. Army snipers have begun using a new method to kill Iraqis suspected of being insurgents, planting fake weapons and bomb-making material as bait and then killing anyone who picks up 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 incidents between April and June near Iskandariya.
In sworn statements, soldiers testifying for the defense have said the sniper team was employing a baiting program developed by the Pentagon's Asymmetrical Warfare Group, which met with and gave equipment to Ranger sniper teams in Iraq in January.
The Washington Post first described the baiting program in an article Monday.
An army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Monday that the army did not discuss specific methods for "targeting enemy combatants" publicly, and that no classified program authorized the use of "drop weapons" to make a killing appear justified.
The court martial of one of the accused soldiers, Specialist Jorge Sandoval Jr., is scheduled to begin in Baghdad on Wednesday. The two other soldiers facing premeditated murder charges are Staff Sergeant Michael Hensley, the sniper team squad leader, and Sergeant Evan Vela. All three are part of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based in Fort Richardson, Alaska.
None of the three soldiers denies that they killed the three Iraqis they are charged with murdering. Through their lawyers and in court documents, the soldiers argue that the killings were legal and authorized by their superiors. A transcript of the hearing was provided by a member of an accused soldier's family.
Snipers are among the most specialized of soldiers, using camouflage clothing and makeup to infiltrate enemy locations and high-powered rifles and scopes to stalk and kill enemy fighters. The three snipers accused of murder had for months ventured into some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq, said lawyers for Vela.
"Snipers are special people who are trained to shoot in a detached fashion, not to see their targets as human beings," said James Culp, one of Vela's lawyers. "Snipers have split seconds to take shots, and he had a split second to decide whether to shoot."
After visiting the sniper unit in Iraq, members of the Asymmetrical Warfare Group gave soldiers ammunition boxes containing so-called drop items, like bullets, plastic explosives and bomb detonation cords, to use to target Iraqis involved in insurgent activity, according to Captain Matthew Didier, a sniper platoon leader who gave sworn testimony in the accused soldiers' court hearings.