Tue, Aug 08, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi medic testifies in rape-slaying case


An Iraqi army medic on Sunday told a US military hearing of the horrific scene that confronted him in a tiny home south of Baghdad when he found the naked and burned body of a 14-year-old girl allegedly raped and murdered by US soldiers.

The medic testified on the opening day of a hearing to determine whether five US soldiers must stand trial in the March 12 rape-slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killing of her parents and sister in the town of Mahmoudiya.

It is among the worst in a series of cases of alleged killings of civilians and other abuses by US soldiers that have tarnished the US military.

The medic, whose name was withheld for security reasons, testified he was the first responder to enter the house and found the girl sprawled naked in the house, her torso and head burned by flames. She had a single bullet wound under her left eye, he said.

He said he found Abeer's five-year-old sister, Hadeel, in an adjacent room dead from a bullet wound in the head. The children's father, Qassim, and mother, Fikhriya, suffered similar deaths, he said. The mother's abdomen and chest were riddled with bullets, he added.

"I was feeling very bad," he said. "I was sick for almost two weeks."

He told the hearing that because Mahmoudiya's hospital did not have enough space to store the bodies, they were kept in an air-conditioned ambulance overnight, then buried the following day.

Four soldiers -- Sergeant Paul Cortez, Specialist James Barker, Private First Class Jesse Spielman and Private First Class Bryan Howard -- have been accused of rape and murder and could face the death penalty if the case is passed for a court-martial. A fifth, Sergeant Anthony Yribe, is accused of failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.

A former private, Steven Green, was arrested in North Carolina in June on rape and murder charges in the case. Green, who was discharged from the Army for a "personality disorder," has pleaded not guilty in federal court and is being held without bond.

The commander of the soldiers' battalion in the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Kunk, testified on Sunday that he recalled hearing Green say "all Iraqis are bad people."

"I told him that that wasn't true and that 90 to 95 percent of the Iraqi people are good people, and they want the same thing that we have in the United States," Kunk said.

Sunday's proceeding is referred to as an Article 32 hearing and is the military equivalent of a grand jury session. It is expected to last several days, and parts will be held in secret.

During cross-examination, Kunk said Green, Cortez and Spielman were "wallowing in self-pity" amid the violence and loss of comrades in the Mahmoudiya area, known in Iraq as the "Triangle of Death." They sought help for combat stress, Kunk said.

Much of Sunday's testimony focused on whether the accused soldiers were suffering from combat stress and whether such emotional trauma might have led them to commit the crimes.

Kunk estimated that about a quarter of the soldiers in his battalion suffered from some form of combat stress, including sleepless nights, nightmares, perpetual nervousness and chronic nausea.

However, "the majority of the platoon, in my opinion, were able to accept the loss of their brothers in arms," Kunk told defense lawyer Captain Jimmie Culp. "I believe every soldier wakes up every morning wanting to do the right thing. I don't believe any soldier wakes up thinking `I want to be screwed up.'"

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