Global Policy Forum

US Soldier Admits Killing Family after Raping Girl


By Julian Borger

November 16, 2006

An American soldier yesterday pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of three members of her family in a village near Baghdad in March in one of the most brutal examples of attacks on civilians in Iraq. The soldier, Specialist James Barker, also agreed to testify against three other accused soldiers. He agreed to the plea in return for a guarantee that he would not face the death penalty, his lawyers said.

The murders took place on March 12 in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad. Prosecutors allege that five soldiers stationed at a checkpoint there raped the girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, then burned her body to hide the evidence, and killed her father, mother and six-year-old sister.

The alleged ringleader, Private Steven Green, was discharged from the army in May for a "personality disorder" before the crime came to light. He is being tried as a civilian in a federal court in Kentucky, and has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and sexual assault. The other defendants are still serving in the 101st Airborne Division and are being tried by court martial.

Specialist Barker has told investigators that the soldiers had drunk whiskey and played cards while plotting the attack on the family, and that he, Pte Green and another soldier, Sergeant Paul Cortez, had taken turns in raping the girl. He said Pte Green had shot her and her family. In an earlier hearing yesterday, the army arraigned Sgt Cortez on charges in the rape and murder of the teenager and the killing of her family. Sgt Cortez deferred entering a plea and a trial date was not set.

The killings have been the most inflammatory of a series of war crimes that have tarnished the reputation of US and British forces. An insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, claimed to have built a rocket with a range of 12 miles, and named it Abeer after the victim. The dead girl's uncle, Ahmad Qassim, told the Guardian last month that he had little faith in the US justice system. "They should hand the criminals to us ... they should be tried in Iraq and executed here," he said. Adnan Janabi, a local leader, said: "A murder can be solved in a local council by money, but rape can only be solved by killing the perpetrator."

The authorities believed the family were killed by insurgents until a member of the unit involved came forward. Pte Green's involvement has raised questions about the army's recruiting procedures in an unpopular war that has killed nearly 3,000 Americans. He entered the army soon after being arrested for underage drinking and had a record of alcohol and drug abuse. To make up for a recruitment shortfall, the army has begun accepting a higher number of "category four" candidates who score low on a military aptitude test.

The Charges

Specialist James Barker
Charged with rape and murder. Pleaded guilty to avoid death penalty.

Sergeant Paul Cortez
Charged with rape and murder. Deferred entering a plea; trial date yet to be set. Could face death penalty.

Private Jesse Spielman
Charged with rape and murder. To be arraigned in December. Could face death penalty.

Private Bryan Howard
Charged with rape and murder. Yet to enter a plea. Unclear if death penalty will apply.

Former Private Steven Green
Charged in a civilian court with murder and sexual assault. Pleaded not guilty. Discharged from army before charges. Unclear if death penalty will apply.

More Information on Iraq
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More Information on the Occupation and Rule in Iraq


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