Marine Pleads Guilty To Kidnapping Iraqi Later Killed

Friday, February 16th 2007, 7:57 pm
By: News On 6

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) _ A Marine who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy apologized Friday to his country, the Marine Corps and the family of an Iraqi man his squad killed.

``I can honestly and truly say that I am sorry that I did what I did,'' said Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington at his sentencing hearing. ``Saying I feel bad just does not begin to describe it.''

Pennington, 22, pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping and conspiracy. He was part of an eight-member squad accused of kidnapping and murdering Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, last April in the Iraqi town of Hamdania.

A murder charge will be dismissed, provided Pennington sticks to the terms in a pretrial agreement requiring him to testify for the government and remain on good behavior. He was the sixth member of the squad to plead guilty in the case, though one of those troops withdrew his plea ahead of his sentencing.

The serviceman was interviewed by his civilian attorney, David Brahms. He did not take the stand and was not sworn in, meaning he could not be cross examined.

Describing his mission in Hamdania as ``fuzzy at best and convoluted at worse,'' Pennington said that as a Marine he had been taught to be aggressive, to take the initiative and to take the fight to the enemy.

``As callous as it sounds, it's guilty until proven otherwise,'' Pennington said. ``You have to make the assumption that unless they show you otherwise, treat them as thought they are your enemy.''

The Marine said he believed that eventually his squad was going to get attacked in Hamdania and the men decided to take pre-emptive action. Pennington said the squad initially went after a man they knew to be high up in the insurgency, but when they couldn't find him they killed Awad instead to ``send a message.''

Under questioning from the military judge, Pennington said his squad had no legal justification for dragging Awad from his home and shooting him.

Investigators believe the servicemen tried to cover up the killing to make it look like he was an insurgent planting a bomb.

During the government's part of the sentencing hearing Thursday, the Navy medic who patrolled with the Marines testified that Pennington had cracked jokes about Awad's body and manipulated the corpse to make it appear a lifeless Awad was slapping himself in the face.

Pennington's psychologist, Glenn Lipson, said Friday that multiple combat deployments, including one where he saw a close friend die, damaged Pennington's mental health.

He ``seemed to be locked in a fight mode,'' displaying many traits associated with post traumatic stress disorder, Lipson said.

Lipson said Pennington knew at the time of the kidnapping that it was wrong, but believed it was justifiable because he thought it ultimately would save American lives.

``He thought that rumors that he'd heard of other conduct, this is something he could get away with,'' Lipson said.

Pennington, of Mukilteo, Wash., faces life in prison, but a shorter sentence is likely part of his pretrial agreement.

Pennington's mother also testified. She said her son had been a loving boy who came back from Fallujah damaged, and his smile no longer ``reached his eyes.''

``That part of Bobby died in Fallujah,'' Deanna Pennington testified. ``He was still my son, he was just changed.''