Army murder case: Why it’s significant

Senior national security correspondent Jonathan Karl blogs about today’s court hearing:

Later today, the military will present evidence against four soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqi detainees in Thar-Thar, Iraq on May 9. This will be a so-called Article 32 hearing and will determine whether the soldiers face court martial. (At left, a U.S. Army photo of Sgt. Lemuel Lemus, right, who changed his account of why three Iraqi detainees were killed after a raid in May. Via the NYT.)

This case may soon have significance beyond the fate of these four soldiers.

The defendants claim they were under orders to kill all military-age males. That may sound like defense attorney posturing, but military officials familiar with this case tell me there may be some truth to the allegation.

The commander of the brigade -- 187th Infantry Regiment, known as the Rakkasans -- is Col. Michael Steele. He was the commander of the unit that came under attack in Somalia in 1993 and is portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down." (At left, Steele in 2005.)

Col. Steele has not been charged with any crime. But ABC News has learned Col. Steele has been reprimanded and is now the subject of an investigation that could result in criminal charges. One official tells me Steele is an overly aggressive commander with an unnatural zeal for killing Iraqi insurgents. A February article by a reporter embedded in Steele's unit quotes a soldier saying, "The Rakkasans don't do warning shots." The reporter adds: a warning shot in the vernacular of the Rakkasans... was a bullet that hit one Iraqi man while others could see.

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