Army private tells of fear of death in unit involved in alleged rape-slaying

Army private tells of fear of death in unit involved in alleged rape-slaying
August 8th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Army private tells of fear of death in unit involved in alleged rape-slaying

Army private tells of fear of death in unit involved in alleged rape-slaying
Media: The Associated Press
Byline: By RYAN LENZ
Date: 08 August 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_A U.S. Army private Tuesday described the ever-present fear of
death gripping his unit, whose members stand accused of raping and murdering
a 14-year-old girl and killing her family in Iraq's infamous "triangle of

"You're just walking a death walk," Pfc. Justin Cross told a hearing to
determine whether five fellow soldiers must stand trial in the March 12
attack near Mahmoudiya.

Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc.
Bryan L. Howard are accused of raping and murdering the girl and killing her
parents and 5-year-old sister. Another soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is
accused of failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have

Testimony during the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand
jury, has painted a picture of a demoralized unit, drained emotionally after
the deaths of comrades and exhausted after the frequent attacks in the
mostly Sunni Arab area, a stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq and other religious

"It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up," Cross
told the hearing Tuesday. "You just hit a point where you're like, 'If I die
today, I die.'"

Cross said the unit was "full of despair," and he feared dying at his post
before he could go home.

"I couldn't sleep mainly for fear we would be attacked," Cross said. He said
the deaths of two soldiers at a checkpoint "pretty much crushed the

To cope with the stress, soldiers turned to whiskey _ a violation of U.S.
regulations in Iraq _ and painkillers to ease their fears _ never knowing
whether the day would be their last.

Much of the testimony has centered on former soldier Steven Green, who was
discharged due to an undisclosed personality disorder.

Green was arrested in June shortly after the command learned that U.S.
soldiers may have been involved in the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to
rape and murder charges and is held in the United States.

On Tuesday, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Fenlason, the accused soldiers' platoon
sergeant, said he was sent to the unit to restore discipline after several
soldiers, including Green, began suffering emotionally after losing several

"I recall a conversation with him (Green) regarding his lack of concern or
caring for Iraqi life versus American soldiers' life," Fennelson said.

Another witness, Sgt. Daniel Carrick, told the hearing that harsh conditions
effected everyone but especially Green.

"Green had hatred for a lot of people in general," Carrick said.

But it was the testimony of Cross that was the most riveting. His comments
starkly contrasted with the image of a professional military force, highly
trained and committed to the mission regardless of the dangers.

Premeditated murder carries the death penalty under U.S. military law and
the testimony could be an attempt to convince the command to seek a lesser
penalty if a court martial is ordered.

In Washington, lawyer Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of
Military Justice, said combat stress as a defense was a longshot "unless it
rose to the level of an insanity defense or negated some element of the

"It might influence whether it's sent to trial as a capital case," he told
The Associated Press. "That may be what the defense considers the main event
here...They may be hoping to have the nature of the charges modified, have
the case go to trial as something other than premeditated murder."

The Mahmoudiya area, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, gained
the nickname "triangle of death" because of the large number of Iraqi
Shiites who were waylaid and murdered along the roads between Baghdad and
Shiite areas of the south.

Some of the Sunni clans in the Mahmoudiya area are related to those in the
insurgent strongholds of Anbar province, which includes Ramadi and Fallujah.

On Monday, Army criminal investigator Benjamin Bierce testified about a
sworn statement by Barker in which he told of drinking whiskey before the
assault. Bierce said Barker confessed that he, Cortez and Green took turns
raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and that Green shot the girl as well as her

On Tuesday, Pfc. Justin Watt said that he didn't believe Green "could have
done this all by himself." His comments were made during questioning by
Yribe's lawyers.

Lawyers for the other four submitted a written request for a new hearing,
accusing Yribe's counsel of deliberately asking incriminating questions. A
decision is pending.

Sgt. Anthony Hernandez, a soldier in the same unit, testified Tuesday on
behalf of Yribe, recalling that he was recommended for a Silver Star for
bravery during an attack on a convoy.

"He always put his life on the life," Hernandez said.

The rape and murders have bolstered allegations of misconduct by soldiers
including illegal killings, beatings and inhuman treatment. The allegations
have increased the mistrust and resentment among Iraqis of the American
military and increased calls for their withdrawal.

The case has already increased demands for changes in an agreement that
exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts. And Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki has demanded an independent investigation into the
Mahmoudiya allegations.

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