Source AP ©

American officer is acquitted of beating Iraqi detainees

U.S. have withdrawn criminal charges against an officer accused of beating Iraqi detainees, but he will plead guilty to assault at an administrative hearing as part of a pretrial agreement.

Marine 2nd Lt. Nathan P. Phan was accused of beating, choking and threatening two men in March or April 2006 in the town of Hamdania as part of an effort to extract information.

Attorney David Sheldon said Phan, 26, has reached an agreement with the U.S. government in which he will "accept responsibility for his actions" and will "testify truthfully" if called to the witness stand in upcoming courts-martial against three men from his platoon accused of murdering an Iraqi civilian in an unrelated incident.

Sheldon said Phan faced up to 10 years in prison had he been found guilty of assault at trial. At the administrative hearing, he faces a far lighter reprimand, such as forfeiture of pay. Phan was "extremely happy" criminal charges were dropped, Sheldon said.

Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine spokesman, confirmed that criminal charges were withdrawn, but he declined to say whether a pretrial agreement had been reached.

The move could help prosecutors in their case against the three Marines charged with murdering a 52-year-old Iraqi man.

An entire eight-man squad was originally accused; five have cut deals with prosecutors in which they pleaded guilty to lesser charges and must testify against the remaining three.

Prosecutors say the men dragged the Iraqi man from his home and shot him to death in a ditch, then tried to cover up the crime by saying the man was an insurgent planting a roadside bomb.

Phan was not part of the squad and was not present when the killing occurred. Investigators uncovered his alleged assaults against detainees when investigating the killing.