Wednesday, August 9, 2006
In testimony given before a U.S. military hearing, criminal investigator Benjamin Bierce narrated his account of how an incident involving five soldiers involved the serial rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl prior to shooting her. The hearing will determine whether four current U.S. soldiers have to face a court martial hearing; an additional former soldier allegedly involved in the incident, Steven D. Green, was recently discharged from the military and has pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges in federal court in Kentucky.
According to Bierce, a U.S. Special Agent investigating the incident, the brutal attack which saw Abeer Qassim al-Janabi slain and her parents and younger sister murdered was premeditated. Citing a sworn statement from Army Specialist James Barker, the five accused were said to have plotted the rape whilst drinking whisky and playing cards.According to Agent Bierce, Spc. Barker said that Pte. Spielman grabbed the girl while Pte. Green seized her father and they then took them into the house and Sgt. Cortez and Spc. Barker followed them inside.
Pte. Green supposedly led the father, mother and younger sister into the bedroom and closed the door, while the teenage girl remained in the living room with the other Americans, Spc. Barker’s statement said.
Sgt. Cortez then allegedly pushed the girl to the floor, pulled up her dress and tore off her underwear while she was struggling, Bierce said, again citing Spc. Barker’s statement. Sgt. Cortez appeared to then rape Abeer and afterward, Spc. Barker tried to rape the girl, the statement said.
Then Pte. Green came out of the bedroom with an AK-47 rifle and announced: “They’re all dead. I just killed them,” according to Spc. Barker’s statement.
Then Sgt. Cortez held Abeer down while Pte. Green raped the girl; according to Spc. Barker’s statement. Pte. Green then picked up the AK-47 and shot Abeer once, waited, and then shot her a few more times, the U.S. official, Agent Bierce, said, quoting from Spc. Barker’s statement.
Spc. Barker said that he then poured kerosene lamp fuel on the girl’s body but Barker did not say who set it on fire.
Gary Griesmyer, another Special Agent, quoted Sgt. Cortez as telling him that the teenage girl was crying and talking in Arabic and that Spc. Barker told her to “shut up.”
Private Justin Watt testified that Pte. Howard told him before the incident that Pte. Green, Sgt. Cortez and Spc. Barker were planning to rape a girl, and Pte. Howard was going to be the lookout.
Watt testified that he heard Mr. Green say, “I want to kill and hurt a lot of Iraqis.” Green has been discharged from the military and has pleaded not guilty in a federal court in Kentucky where he will stand trial; he will not be facing a court martial regardless of what occurrs in the Baghdad hearing.
“If you have the power to make something right, you should do it. Investigation is not my job. But if something went down — something terrible like that — then it’s my obligation to come forward,” Watt said.
Watt also said life for some of the soldiers in the B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, was horrible while they were manning a military post in nearby Yusufiyah. Some lived in a “dilapidated, abandoned water treatment facility” he said.
Pfc. Watt, who is identified as the whistle-blowing soldier who disclosed the attack during a counseling session, also said; “I feared for my safety at the TCP (traffic control point). It’s like this, I find out that guys in my squad, guys I trusted with my life, are allegedly responsible for one of the most brutal rapes/murders I’ve ever seen. And everyone has a weapon and grenades.”
Pfc. Justin Cross testified that deadly attacks by insurgents sapped morale and raised combat stress in the U.S. Army unit that included the soldiers accused of raping and murdering Abeer. He said that the “mentally draining” living conditions of the combat unit was a factor.
“It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up. You just hit a point where you’re like, ‘If I die today, I die.’ You’re just walking a death walk.” Pfc. Cross told the hearing.
An article 32 hearing, like this, seeks to determine if a soldiers should face court martial. Its similar to that of a preliminary hearing or a grand jury proceeding in civilian law.