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Pentagon Won't Comment on Reports of Iraq Sniper Baiting Program


The Pentagon is refusing to comment directly on news reports in the United States about a classified program encouraging some military snipers in Iraq to use fake weapons and bomb-making materials as bait, and then killing anyone who picks up the items. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

News reports on the classified sniper program are based on information described in documents related to recently filed murder charges against three members of a U.S. Army sniper team.

Each soldier is accused of killing an Iraqi in separate shootings and then planting incriminating evidence, such as wire for making bombs, on the bodies of the victims.

Lawyers for the soldiers say the killings were legal and authorized by their superiors.

In sworn statements, soldiers testifying for the defense say the sniper team was employing a so-called baiting program developed at the Pentagon by the Asymmetrical Warfare Group. That group advises commanders on how to fight unconventional conflicts such as the insurgency in Iraq.

In the statements the baiting was described as putting items, including plastic explosives, ammunition and detonation cords on the battlefield then killing suspected insurgents who picked up the objects.

During a briefing at the Pentagon, Major General Richard Sherlock declined to comment directly on the existence of the program or the cases against the three snipers.

"I can't discuss this case specifically for a couple of reasons," he said. "First of all there is a court martial that is about to convene and the soldiers connected with this case and subsequent cases deserve due process. Second of all, we don't normally discuss specific, tactics, techniques and procedures. However, I will say we base all of our actions on the laws of land warfare and the rules of engagement and our rules of engagement apply in all circumstances, which does not include simply picking something up on the battlefield."

An Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, says there are no classified programs at the Pentagon that authorize the murder of Iraqi civilians or planting evidence to make killings appear to be legally justified.

The court martial of one of the accused soldiers is scheduled to begin this week in Baghdad.

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