Melson J. Bacos was born in 1985 in Chicago after his parents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. His family moved to Franklin, Massachusetts in 1991.
After graduating from high school in Franklin, he joined the United States (US) Navy in 2003. He was Navy Petty Officier 3rd Class when the alleged facts occurred. He was first deployed in Iraq in July 2004, and returned to the US in April 2005. He was redeployed in Iraq in January 2006 where he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment’s Kilo Company.
On 26 April 2006, Bacos, together with seven other members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment’s Kilo Company were on patrol near Hamdania, searching for Saleh Gowad, an insurgent who was alleged to have repeatedly planted bombs. The other US Marines were Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins, Marine Corporal Trent Thomas, Lance Corporal Jerry Shumate Jr., Lance Corporal Robert Pennington, Corporal Marshall Magincalda, Private First Class John Jodka and the caporal Tyler Jackson.
The US marines abducted an Iraqi civilian, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a 52 year old father of 11 children, that they believed to be Saleh Gowad. They seized him and bound his hands before forcing him to walk through the scene of an ambush that had occurred previously between the U.S. military and the Iraqi insurgents. There they forcefully pushed him into a crater that had been left by an explosive device. The marines then retreated and some allegedly shot at him whilst he was bound at the bottom of the hole while others fired into the air with a Kalashnikov to make it seem that a “battle royal” was taking place.
Once the man died, the Marines scattered the bullet casings from the Kalashnikov around his body and placed the weapon at his side. Before leaving, the Marines also untied his feet and legs. Their alleged objective was to make it look as though Hashim Awad had been caught trying to install a roadside IED, and that his death had resulted from a regular skirmish. The following day, local police found the body and asked neighbours to identify it.
On 1 May 2006, Iraqis from Hamdania brought the death of Awad to the attention of the US marine leadership in Iraq. On 24 May 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was requested by the US marine leadership in Iraq to proceed with a criminal investigation into the events that took place in Hamdania on 26 April 2006.
Bacos was returned from Iraq in May 2006 and was placed in confinement at Camp Pendleton, California, pending his court-martial.
Together with the seven other members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment’s Kilo Company, Bacos was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to obstruct justice, larceny and providing false official statements in connection with the events that took place on 26 April 2006. He was accused of stealing an AK-47 assault rifle, helping abduct Awad and later firing rounds from the rifle to make it looks like a regular skirmish
On 7 October 2006, military prosecutors reached an agreement in which charges against Bacos would be reduced to kidnapping and conspiracy in return for his testimony. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a reduction in rank, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all his pay and allowances. As part of the plea agreement and with time served while awaiting trial, Bacos was to be confined for less than a year. He was also allowed to stay in the Navy and keep his compensation.
Bacos was moved to the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego for his safety.
On 8 March 2007, Bacos was released, following a reduction of his sentence for good behavior.
The Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) is a hybrid tribunal created on 10 June 2003, in Bagdad by the Coalition Provisional Authority, namely, the government established after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The mission of the Tribunal is to adjudicate on the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity as well as war crimes, committed between 17 July 1968 and 1 May 2003, period that covered the political regime of the Ba’ath Party. It is specifically targeted to crimes committed by Iraqis during the aforementioned period, especially, those committed during the war against Iran (1980 – 1988) and the invasion of Kuwait (1990-1991).
The Iraqi Special Tribunal was created in the context of the Iraq War, also known as the Gulf War that started on 20 March 2003 with the operation “Iraq Freedom”. This operation was led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the International Coalition, to overthrow Saddam Hussein´s Ba’ath Party. Originally founded in Damascus in 1947, the Ba’ath Party reached the power in Iraq in 1963, but, due to the coup on 17 July 1968 it held definitively the power until 2003. When Saddam Hussein took power 16 July 1979, the party completely changed, becoming militarized and organizing it in different cells around the country, showing strong resistance to the challenges they faced.
The war in Iraq was led by the United States. The reasons officially announced by the government of G.W. Bush were the fight against terrorism, the elimination of the presumptive mass destruction weapons held by Iraq and the arrest of Saddam Hussein, to point only the main ones. After a quick defeat of the Iraqi Army, at the end of April 2003, and the capture of Saddam Hussein, the coalition and Iraq attempted to install a government of democratic transition, representative of all the Iraqi communities and, at the same time, proceed to trial the members of the Ba’ath Party, who had been recently captured.
In close collaboration with the United States Justice Department, to which Paul Brenner, second civil administrator of Iraq, reports, the statute of the Special Tribunal was established by decree on 10 December 2003. The United States have provided more than 100 million dollars to ensure the “building of the hearings, perform the exhumations, to study the seized documents, the production of evidence and the training of the IST members”.
The statute of this Tribunal combines the two existing models of proceedings and is strongly inspired by the American accusatory system, as well as in the Egyptian law, which is essentially inquisitorial. In the case of insufficiency of the statute, it envisages the recurrence to the Penal Proceeding Code of Iraq from 1971.
In regard to criminal definitions, the Tribunal statute introduced, along with the Iraqi criminal law, a number of criminal definitions extracted from the statutes of other international criminal courts, with the aim of charging Saddam Hussein, as well as his aides, with the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Besides, when these crimes do not find correspondence in the Iraqi criminal law, the statute authorizes the judges to fix the amount of the punishment, regarding the entity of the crime, the individual characteristics of the accused and the international case law.
The Iraq Special Tribunal has in structure, 20 prosecutors hired for three years, three chambers, each one formed with five permanent judges that last five years in their position, an Appeal Chamber with nine judges, as well as 20 investigating judges, designated for three years. The Tribunal is composed exclusively of Iraqi justices, some of whom have claimed, since the beginning, being under the pressure of the Provisional Government. Some other justices have been victims of threats, kidnapping, and even killings.
Although this instance has been criticized since it has come into force, accused of, allegedly, being an instance to provide justice for the winners, the Iraqi Special Tribunal procured the means to accomplish its central goal as soon as possible, namely, to judge the old head of State, Saddam Hussein, as well as the main representatives of the Ba’ath regime. Beside genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Tribunal is competent to manage the judiciary, try the crime of squandering of national resources and the use of the Iraq Army against an Arabic country: charges for all those crimes were presented in the first trial.
The first proceeding that took place in an Iraqi court was the awaited trial of Saddam Hussein, judged along with seven of his lieutenants, on 19 October 2003. The circumstances in which the proceedings started raised doubts regarding its impartiality and for that reason, many Human Rights organizations, among them Human Rights Watch, denounced either the technical limitations as well as financials ones, aimed to hinder the defendant’s lawyers work, in comparison with the support given to the Prosecutors.
Another aspect of strong controversy was the re-establishment of the dead penalty on 30 June 2004, which had being abolished in 2003 by Paul Bremer. Even there is an abolitionist position acquired in International Law, many dead sentences were early adopted and the paroxysm is no other than the hung of Saddam Hussein in December 2006, deliberately made public. After the hung, the Tribunal continued and still continues, prosecuting the old members of the Ba’ath government.
Up to date, the Iraqi Special Tribunal is under development, always in a context of political crisis and recurring attacks.