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Opening statements begin in Fallujah case
Marines Fallujah LA 5568881
Former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr., arrives with his attorney Emery Ledger, right, at Federal Court Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, in Riverside, Calif., for opening statements in his trial for allegedly killing unarmed detainees in Iraq in November 2004. It is the first time such charges have been brought under a federal law that allows the prosecution of former military service members for war crimes. - photo by Associated Press
    RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A former Marine charged with killing unarmed detainees in Iraq did what he did to save his comrades, his attorney said Thursday as opening statements in the defendant’s first-of-its-kind federal trial began.
    Jose Luis Nazario Jr. is the first civilian to be tried under a federal law that allows the prosecution of former military service members for war crimes.
    Prosecutor Charles Kovats described Nazario as a man who killed ‘‘unarmed, submissive, docile’’ detainees and encouraged men under his charge to do the same thing.
    ‘‘He shot and killed, and he had his subordinate Marines shoot and kill,’’ Kovats said in his opening statement.
    Defense attorney Kevin McDermott countered that Nazario killed insurgents to save his comrades.
    ‘‘Almost immediately, the rules of engagement were thrown out,’’ McDermott told jurors. ‘‘The insurgents don’t play by the rules of engagement.’’
    Nazario, 28, of Riverside, is charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter on suspicion of killing or causing others to kill four unarmed detainees in November 2004 in Fallujah during some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
    He also faces one count of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
    He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted of all the charges, he could face more than 10 years in prison.
    The case has drawn national attention with the prosecution’s use of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a law written in 2000 and amended in 2004 primarily to allow the prosecution of civilian contractors who commit crimes while working for the U.S. overseas.
    But it also allows for military dependents and those no longer in the military who commit crimes outside the United States to be brought to trial.
    The case came to light in 2006, when Nazario’s former squadmate Sgt. Ryan Weemer volunteered details to a U.S. Secret Service job interviewer during a lie-detector screening that included a question about the most serious crime he ever committed.
    Weemer, of Hindsboro, Ill., was ordered this month to stand trial in military court on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty in the killing of an unarmed detainee in Fallujah. He has pleaded not guilty.
    According to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service criminal complaint, several Marines allege Nazario shot two Iraqi men who had been detained while his squad searched a house.
    The complaint claims four Iraqi men were killed during the action.
    It is unclear what, if anything, Marines being subpoenaed to testify will say about the events in the house in Fallujah.
    Another Marine, Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, 26, of New York, is slated to be court-martialed in December on charges of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty for his role in the deaths. Although he has not entered a plea in military court, Nelson’s attorney has said his client is innocent.
    Nelson and Weemer were jailed in June for contempt of court for refusing to testify against Nazario before a federal grand jury believed to be investigating the case. Both were released July 3 and returned to Camp Pendleton.

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