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VILSECK, Germany — A Germany-based soldier who testified Thursday that he pulled security while his fellow soldiers killed four Iraqi detainees and "didn’t care" at the time that they would end up dead will spend seven months in prison, for his role in the incident. He also will see his rank reduced to private and receive a dishonorable discharge.

A military judge sentenced Spc. Belmor Ramos to 40 years’ confinement in the 2007 slayings after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, but the sentence was reduced to seven months as part of a pretrial agreement. As part of the agreement, Ramos agreed to testify against other members of his unit.

Ramos, 23, who appeared at a court-martial Thursday, was one of seven soldiers charged with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder stemming from an incident in March or April 2007 in or near Baghdad. Three of them — 1st Sgt. John E. Hatley, 40; Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., 26 — also are charged with premeditated murder for allegedly shooting four Iraqi detainees in the head and dumping their bodies in a canal.

Ramos had waived his right to a pretrial hearing and pleaded guilty. Under military law, the pretrial agreement is kept secret until the judge sentences the convicted soldier. The soldier then is given the lesser of the two sentences.

On Thursday, Ramos told the court his version of the events when he was serving with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (now Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment) as a gunner in Hatley’s Humvee.

According to information that came out during the trial, the unit’s patrol was fired upon, and the soldiers detained two Iraqi men who were seen running away from a place where weapons were found. Two more Iraqi men were later detained.

After the Iraqis were detained, Hatley said they would be "taken care of" and asked the men in his Humvee if they were OK with it, Ramos said.

"I said I was cool with it. ... I understood at the time that taking care of them would mean that they would end up dead. I didn’t care," he testified.

The Iraqis were handcuffed with plastic ties, blindfolded and taken to the company’s combat outpost. Ramos said he went to his room and watched a DVD before going on a second patrol to take the Iraqis to a canal where he pulled security.

"Although I didn’t see the shooting, I heard the shots. When (Hatley, Mayo and Leahy) returned from the canal, I assumed (the Iraqis) were dead.… I wanted them dead," he said.

The defense called several 1-18 soldiers as character witnesses during the sentencing phase of the trial who testified that Ramos was respected within his unit despite the incident.

Sgt. Gustavo Pena said he hung out with Ramos in the barracks and would gladly have him in his Bradley fighting vehicle crew. Most members of the battalion knew about the killing of the detainees and Ramos’ involvement, he said.

"Their opinion is that he is a good soldier," he said.

Defense lawyer Capt. Patrick Bryan said Ramos’ guilty plea and demoting him to private would be enough to deter soldiers from emulating his actions.

He said the Army was the best place to rehabilitate him and added that a dishonorable discharge could mean the Chilean-born Ramos would lose U.S. citizenship, which he had gained by virtue of his enlistment.

However, prosecutor Capt. Derrick Grace argued that Ramos’ actions violated the Geneva Conventions and cast a dark shadow on the Army and his unit.

"Soldiers’ decisions on the battlefield should be given great deference, but his isn’t even a close call.

"Even if they were insurgents, they were obviously out of the fight. He should be thankful that his standard of proof and punishment is not being used to judge him," he said.

Judge Lt. Col. Edward O’Brien sentenced Ramos to 40 years’ confinement, reduction to private and a dishonorable discharge.

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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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