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US soldier charged over 2009 Iraq killings

20 may 2012, 10:39
US soldiers in Afghanistan posing with dead civilians. Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk
US soldiers in Afghanistan posing with dead civilians. Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk
A US soldier has been charged with murder over the 2009 killing of five comrades at a stress clinic on the biggest US base in Iraq, AFP reports according to the military.

Sergeant John Russell, who is being held at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, faces a court-martial over the killings, although no trial date has yet been set.

"These charges result from an investigation into Sgt Russell's alleged shooting of five military personnel on May 11, 2009 at the Camp Liberty Combat Stress Center in Iraq," said a statement from the base.

Russell could face execution if convicted, the statement said, listing the charges as five counts of premeditated murder, an aggravated assault charge and one of attempted murder.

"If convicted of all charges (and specifications), the maximum possible punishment is death," it said.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is no stranger to courts-martial of soldier involved in killings off the battlefield: in March, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged there with the shooting deaths of 17 Afghan villagers.

Last year, members of a so-called "kill team" were put on trial at the base over the deaths of Afghan civilians in early 2010, involving fingers being removed and soldiers posing with dead bodies.

The ringleader of that squad, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, was found guilty in November and sentenced to life behind bars.

Although Russell is being held at the base south of Seattle, a spokesman stressed that the soldier was normally stationed in Germany. Lewis-McChord is keen to downplay any image of being a troubled military base.

Attacks by stressed US soldiers on their colleagues were not uncommon in Iraq at the time of the 2009 killings. The previous year, another US sergeant shot dead two of his superiors at a base south of Baghdad.

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