Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: Marine freed from jail in Los Angeles

May 29, 2008 |  1:11 pm


Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, jailed in Los Angeles last week for contempt of court for refusing to testify against his former squad leader, was released Thursday after promising to attend a grand jury session and listen to questions.

Joseph Low, Nelson's attorney, said his client promised U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson that he would attend a June 18 session of a grand jury probing the alleged killing of prisoners by Marines during the fight for Fallouja in late 2004.

But Nelson did not promise to provide information about former Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, Low said. "I did inform the judge [that] nothing has changed except our willingness to listen," he said.

Anderson had Nelson jailed last week when, despite receiving immunity, he declined to answer questions about "a brother Marine." Low said Nazario had saved Nelson's life in Iraq.

A dozen Marines and other supporters waited outside the courtroom during the closed session.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. James Griffin, stationed at Twentynine Palms, said he was angry that the Marine Corps had not backed Nelson's refusal.

"They teach us 'you never leave your brothers behind,' " Griffin said, "but he's all by himself right now.... We give our lives to the Corps — now this Marine is fighting for his."

Nelson faces charges in the military legal system in Camp Pendleton tied to the alleged killing of prisoners. Nazario is charged in federal court in Riverside, where he was a probationary police officer until he was charged.

Retired Marine Gerald Johnson said charging Nelson and Nazario could make other Marines second-guess themselves during combat.

Court documents suggest that the Marines claim they were faced with a split-second decision: either take time to process prisoners according to the rules, or rush to the aid of Marines pinned down in a firefight.

Another supporter, Joyce Glanza, said it was wrong to pull Nelson into a civilian courtroom. "It's not a jury of your peers anymore; it's a totally different thing."

— Scott Glover in Los Angeles / Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines in house-to-house combat in Fallouja. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times.