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IRAQ: Marine refuses to testify against 'brother'

May 23, 2008 |  3:59 pm

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A Marine combat veteran from Iraq has been thrown into federal jail after refusing to testify against his former squad leader before a grand jury in Los Angeles.

Although granted immunity, Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson, 26, refused Wednesday to testify against former Marine Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario (above, without briefcase) in a case involving the battle in Fallouja in late 2004.

Nelson's attorney, Joseph Low, a former Marine, said that Nelson fell to his knees and began to pray as U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson warned that he would be held in contempt and jailed if he refused to testify.

Low said that Nelson will not testify against Nazario because Nazario saved his life on numerous occasions in Iraq.

"He believes in God, country and Corps, and that he is doing the right thing by not testifying against his brother Marine," Low said after spending several hours with Nelson on Friday at the federal jail in Los Angeles. "His view is that if he has to suffer because of this, so be it."

Nelson and Nazario have been charged with killing unarmed prisoners during the battle in Fallouja rather than take time to process them according to Geneva Convention rules.

Court documents say the Marines killed the prisoners after getting a desperate call for help from other Marines pinned down in a firefight.

Under federal rules, a witness who has been given immunity loses his or her 5th Amendment right not to testify. A balky witness can be kept in jail until the grand jury expires, which could be months.

Nazario is charged in federal court in Riverside, Nelson in the military system at Camp Pendleton. Low said Anderson has set a hearing for next week to see if several days in jail can convince Nelson to testify.

"It can't," Low said.

—Tony Perry, in San Diego

Photo: Former Marine Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, right, enters court with two attorneys. Credit: Associated Press

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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