BAGHDAD - Two American soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder for allegedly killing three Iraqis and then planting weapons on their bodies to portray them as combatants, the U.S. military said Saturday.
The three Iraqis were killed in separate incidents between April and June near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
Fellow soldiers reported the alleged crimes to military authorities who launched an investigation, the military said, without giving further details on the killings or the victims.
One of the accused soldiers, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, from Candler, N.C., was put in military confinement in Kuwait on Thursday, facing three counts each of premeditated murder, obstructing justice and "wrongfully placing weapons with the remains of deceased Iraqis," the statement said.
Hensley's aunt, Patricia Stanberry of Candler, said he was an "all-American boy" who loved serving in the Army and would never jeopardize his career. He was on his third tour of Iraq.
"He's not a killer," Stanberry told the Citizen-Times of Asheville, N.C. "Michael would never do anything like that."
The other soldier, Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Laredo, Texas, and transferred to confinement in Kuwait. The two are assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501 Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Sandoval's mother, Alicia Sandoval, said her 22-year-old son was on a two-week leave visiting his family when authorities came and asked to speak to him. They said he would be back shortly, but she heard nothing since and had no idea where he was taken until an Associated Press reporter called.
"I haven't had any news," she said in Spanish on Saturday from her home in Laredo. "It was all very sudden."
Iraqis often accuse American soldiers of unnecessary killings or abuse, and the war has seen U.S. service members face prosecution in several high-profile incidents, including abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, the killings of 24 civilians by Marines in Haditha and the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the slaying of her family south of Baghdad.
After the rape case came to light, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government would also investigate and seek to prosecute those responsible, but no Iraqi investigation was ever pursued. The U.S. military has said it alone has the right to prosecute its soldiers accused in abuses in Iraq.
The military also announced Saturday that a command sergeant major, Edward Ramsdell, was convicted in a court martial, demoted and sentenced to four months in prison for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a female soldier in his unit, maltreating a soldier and possessing a "large quantity" of alcohol and pornography.
Ramsdell, with the 411 Engineer Brigade based in the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, was also convicted of escape from custody, impeding an investigation by secreting evidence, and wrongfully removing evidence. Ramsdell was demoted to the rank of specialist.
Associated Press Writer Anabelle Garay contributed to this report from Dallas.