A military panel took evidence Wednesday in a hearing aimed at determining whether two U.S. soldiers should face a court-martial in the deaths of four Iraqi men last year.
Authorities say the men were blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal in April 2007 in alleged retribution for casualties within the 172nd Infantry Brigade.
Defense lawyers representing Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham and Sgt. Charles Quigley insisted that their clients didn't participate in the killings and had little or no knowledge of them.
Instead, they argued that three other soldiers in the same brigade - 1st Sgt. John Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo and Sgt. Michael Leahy - were responsible. The three face charges and trial at a later date.
In witness testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, soldiers who were on the patrol said the four Iraqis, probably Sunnis, were taken into custody following a shootout with insurgents, and brought to the brigade's Baghdad base.
None of the soldiers said they saw Cunningham or Quigley discussing anything at the time. Some said they were asked by Hatley and Mayo if it would be all right if the detainees were executed.
"We didn't believe them and didn't answer," Sgt. Daniel Evoy said in his testimony Tuesday. "I didn't hear Cunningham give any kind of order. I didn't see him there."
Other witnesses said that the four men were then taken to a remote area near a canal.
The first witness to provide testimony Wednesday, Pfc. Jonathan Schaffer, said he "was confident it was Sgt. Mayo directing the convoy." He said that the detainees were led from their vehicle and later six or seven shots were heard.
"I thought 'Oh no,' as I put two and two together," he said. Schaffer added that both Cunningham and Quigley were in or near his vehicle at the time. "Quigley was with us, he looked nervous and shocked."
Schaffer and others that testified said the patrol headed back to base and nobody said a word about it on the trip.
Two other soldiers cases were also to be heard on Wednesday, but both waived their right to an investigation, AP reported.