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Four U.S. soldiers charged with rape and murder

CNN | October 19 2006

Four U.S. soldiers accused of raping and killing a 14-year-old girl and slaying her sister and their parents will face courts-martial on murder charges, military officials say.

The commander of the 101st Airborne Division has referred murder charges against the soldiers for the alleged crimes that occurred in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, in March. Two of the soldiers could face the death penalty if convicted.

According to a written statement, Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner made the decision after reviewing a report of the investigation and receiving recommendations from the investigating officer, the appointing authority who directed the investigation and his staff judge advocate.

One of the soldiers, 23-year-old Army Spec. James P. Barker, told an Army criminal investigator that after the killings he poured kerosene on the girl's bullet-ridden body, according to testimony in August at a military hearing. The girl's father, mother and five-year-old sister were also killed, according to military officials.

Barker said in an interview that he held the girl down while she was raped by another soldier, Sgt. Paul Cortez, 23, according to Special Agent Benjamin Bierce of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.

Barker said he then attempted to rape the girl himself, before she was shot to death by former Pfc. Steven D. Green, Bierce said. Green is no longer in the military and faces charges in civilian court.

But, Barker added, he was not sure if he penetrated the girl, because he was having trouble getting an erection.

Bierce also testified that Barker admitted pouring kerosene from a lamp onto the girl's body, although it was unclear from the testimony who set the girl on fire.

Bierce's testimony came during a preliminary hearing in Baghdad for Barker, Cortez, and two other soldiers, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 21, and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, who are also charged in connection with the killings in Mahmoudiya.

The hearing, similar to civilian grand jury proceedings, was held to determine whether there was enough evidence to proceed to courts-martial.

Soldiers held girl down, investigators say
According to statements given at the hearing, the soldiers were drinking whiskey, playing cards and hitting golf balls when Green brought up the idea of going to a house near the checkpoint where they were stationed, to rape the girl.

Barker described Green as very persistent, Bierce testified. The statements said the five soldiers -- Green, Cortez, Barker, Spielman and Howard -- then changed into dark clothing and covered their faces, before going to the house.

According to Barker, Howard was the lookout and was given a radio to use if anyone approached, Bierce said. The four remaining soldiers then entered the home, at which point the statements from Barker and Cortez about what happened diverge, according to testimony.

Barker told investigators that Cortez pushed the 14-year-old girl to the floor and made "thrusting motions" as Barker held down her hands; then they switched positions, Bierce said.

Sometime during the assault, Barker said he heard gunshots come from the bedroom, where the girl's parents and sister had been taken, and an agitated Green emerged and said he had killed them, Bierce said.

According to Barker, Green then put down the AK-47 he had been carrying and raped the girl, while Cortez held her down, and then picked up the gun and shot her several times, Bierce said.

Green then went into the kitchen and, when he returned, said he had opened the propane tank and they needed to get out of the house because it was about to explode, Bierce said.

However, in his statement to U.S. Army investigators, Cortez denied raping the girl, although he admitted holding her down while Barker raped her, Special Agent Gary Griesmyer testified.

Under questioning, Griesmyer testified there was no evidence Spielman raped or murdered anyone in the house.

Special Agent Michael Hood also said Spielman passed a polygraph test in which he denied shooting or raping anyone. However, in his statement to investigators, Barker put Spielman at the scene and said Spielman grabbed the five-year-old girl outside the house and took her inside, Bierce said.

After the alleged attack, Barker also said the soldiers gave Spielman their clothes to burn and that he threw the AK-47 in a canal, Bierce said.

A sixth soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, has been charged with failing to report the alleged rape and killings, but was not alleged to have been a participant.

A soldier's suspicions
Also testifying at the August hearing was a soldier in the same platoon as the accused men, Pfc. Justin Watt, who said he began trying to find out what happened at Mahmoudiya after Yribe confided to him that Green had told Yribe about the rape and killings.

"I wanted to see if I could confirm my suspicions that there were more people involved," Watt said. "I believed there were American forces involved."

Watt said when he asked Howard about what happened, Howard revealed the plan to rape the girl and that his role was to be the lookout. "(Howard) let me know that he ended up seeing a Humvee and calling them back frantically," Watt testified.

Howard also told him that when the other soldiers returned from the house, "Their clothes were covered in blood," Watt said.

After piecing together the details about what happened, Watt said he reported his suspicions to a combat stress team. "If you have the power to make something right, you should do it," Watt said. "Investigation is not my job. But if something went down, something terrible like that, then it's my obligation to come forward."

However, Watt also described the conditions at Mahmoudiya as a "suck-fest," testifying that the soldiers were living in the basement of a "dilapidated, abandoned water treatment facility," and had gone 30 days without a shower.

He also said the ongoing violence, including the deaths of two soldiers in their unit shortly before the slayings of the Iraqi family, had affected everyone. "I was going to get a memorial tattoo of all the guys (who were killed), but there's not enough room on my arm," Watt said.

Accused has "anti-social personality disorder"
Green, who was discharged from the Army and returned to the United States in May because of an "anti-social personality disorder," is facing rape and murder charges in a civilian federal court. He is being held in a Kentucky jail.

All six men charged are from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

There is some confusion over the alleged rape victim's age. Identity cards and death certificates of the victims, which were obtained by Reuters news agency, show the alleged rape victim was Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, with the birth date August 19, 1991.

The mayor of Mahmoudiya confirmed her identity and birth date to CNN. The U.S. military had previously referred to the alleged rape victim as a "young Iraqi woman."

A Justice Department affidavit in the case against Green says investigators estimated her age at about 25, while the U.S. military said she was 20.

Marines face murder charges in separate case
In Camp Pendleton, California, on Wednesday a U.S. Marine general ordered three Marines to stand trial on murder charges in the April killing of an Iraqi man outside Baghdad.

Cpl. Trent Thomas, Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson and Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington are among a group of seven Marines and a Navy medic who have been held at Camp Pendleton since June in connection with the killing of Hasham Ibrahim Awad, 52, in the town of Hamandiya, west of Baghdad.

They face possible life sentences if convicted of murder. Lt. Gen. James Mattis, the chief of Marine forces in the Middle East, ordered the courts-martial after reviewing each case, the Marines announced in a statement from the San Diego-area base.

No trial dates have been set.

 

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