Dishonored Utah soldier admits he consented to execution of Iraqi prisoners
CLEARFIELD - Victoria Ramos understood the stakes.
Her husband had served for decades in the Chilean army before immigrating with his family to the United States in the mid-1990s. Now her son was serving his country in Iraq. And she knew what that could mean.
"When he left to Iraq, we knew there was a possibility that we could lose our boy," Ramos said Thursday in her Clearfield home.
But Ramos said she could not possibly have imagined the news she received this week.
In a stark courtroom at an Army base in eastern Germany on Thursday, Spc. Belmor Ramos pleaded guilty to participating in the murder of four Iraqis. The one-time student commander of Clearfield High School's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program told a military judge that he stood watch while his comrades executed the bound and blindfolded Iraqi men.
"I wanted them dead," the 23-year-old soldier told the court. "I had no legal justification or excuse to do this."
Ramos was sentenced to just seven months in prison as part of a deal that will require him to testify against the other soldiers involved in the killings, which took place in the spring of 2007 near Baghdad.
That was one of the deadliest periods for U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war. And prosecutors said the killings were in retribution for casualties suffered by members of Ramos' unit.
According to testimony in earlier hearings, the Iraqis had been taken prisoner following a shootout with insurgents. After a brief visit to a forward operating base near Baghdad, the soldiers took the four men out to a remote location, shot each one in the head, and dumped the bodies in a Baghdad canal.
On Thursday, Belmor Ramos told Judge Lt. Col. Edward O'Brien that he didn't kill the men. But Ramos admitted that he consented to the executions, stood guard and heard the shots.
Ramos had faced life in prison for his part in the killings. O'Brien told the defendant that he would have sentenced him to 40 years if not for the plea agreement.
Victoria Ramos had learned earlier this month that her son had faced some problems in Iraq, but didn't know the extent of those troubles until she returned home from a visit to relatives in Chile on Wednesday.
"It was terrible news," she said with tears in her eyes.
The allegations were nearly impossible to comprehend, she said, because her son - the third of six in the Ramos family - had always been such an exemplary child, student and soldier. As a teenager he had been overweight, she said, and had to work very hard to get into the Army. "He had no problems in school," she said. "He was always a good boy."
These days, she said, teachers often tell her younger sons "that they have to follow his example."
After serving his prison sentence and testifying against the other soldiers, Belmor Ramos will be dishonorably discharged from the Army and likely will return to Utah.
Ramos said she cannot understand what happened in Iraq, but "when he comes home he will be very welcome."
* The Associated Press contributed to this report.