VILSECK, Germany — The U.S. Army’s senior enlisted soldier in Europe spoke at a court-martial in Vilseck on Tuesday in defense of a noncommissioned officer accused in the killings of five Iraqi detainees.

U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph R. Beam was the first witness called by lawyers representing Master Sgt. John Hatley, 40.

Hatley is the third soldier from the 172nd Infantry Brigade to stand trial in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in March or April 2007. Hatley pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice in the killings.

Prosecutors contend that Hatley and the two other members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment shot the four bound and blindfolded detainees before dumping their bodies in a canal. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Beam was one of several soldiers who appeared in court Tuesday to praise Hatley as an exemplary leader.

Beam said he has known Hatley since the pair worked together for Task Force Falcon in Kosovo in the 1990s.

"I was the Task Force Falcon sergeant major. He had a small line outpost (in Kosovo). He was a very competent NCO; a self-starter. He had a lot of attention to detail and took care of soldiers," Beam testified.

The pair knew each other in garrison in Germany and worked together in Iraq when Beam was the V Corps sergeant major from 2005 to 2008, he said.

"He ran a very tight ship (in Iraq)," Beam said. "When you went into [Hatley’s combat outpost], the place was clean, the men were fed," he said.

Hatley was so good at his job that Beam selected him as a division-level master gunner, he said.

"His men followed him because he was a good leader," he added.

The other two soldiers tried in the March-April killings have been sentenced to prison for their roles.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, was sentenced to 35 years’ confinement after he admitted in court last month to shooting one of the detainees. At a court-martial in February, Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr., 28, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for shooting two of the detainees.

Both Mayo and Leahy told the court this week that Hatley also shot detainees.

Beam’s testimony was similar to that of numerous defense witnesses who provided glowing testimony about Hatley’s leadership ability, military skill and moral judgment.

James Hanson, a retired lieutenant colonel and Hatley’s company commander in the 1990s, described the fellow Desert Shield/Desert Storm veteran as: "... what a leader and soldier and warrior is all about."

Former 2nd "Dagger" Brigade (now the 172nd Infantry Brigade) Command Sgt. Maj. John Fortune said he never worried about the standards being enforced at Hatley’s combat outpost in Baghdad.

"He was one of the top first sergeants I had at that time. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best, and he was one of the best. His duty performance was outstanding," he said.

There were never issues with Hatley not following orders or disobeying the law in Iraq, and, once back in Germany, he had one of the best reputations in Schweinfurt, Fortune said.

The trial is scheduled to continue through the week.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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