One of four US soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl last spring showed little remorse and even smiled during a confession to charges he conspired to kill her and her family.
Even before the hearing on Wednesday to announce a plea agreement, Specialist James Barker, 23, slapped hands with other soldiers and grinned as he smoked a cigarette in the rain. A bailiff scolded him. And when he described for the judge the assault in his own words, he gave vivid details of the rape with a deadpan delivery.
"That's pretty much all I have to say," Barker muttered with a shrug after describing raping the screaming girl.
Barker agreed to plead guilty to the charges to avoid the death penalty, his civilian attorney David Sheldon said. The agreement requires him to testify against three other soldiers and a former US Army private also accused in the March 12 attack in Mahmoudiya, 30km south of Baghdad.
At one point, the military judge presiding over the case, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Anderson, asked Barker why he had decided with other soldiers to commit the rape and murders.
"I hated Iraqis, your honor," Barker answered. "They can smile at you, then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."
Anderson accepted the plea agreement, which calls for Barker to serve life in prison. The judge was to decide yesterday in a hearing whether Barker should be allowed to seek parole.
Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, and Private First Class Jesse Spielman, 22, members of the 101st Airborne Division with Barker, are also charged in the case. Cortez deferred entering a plea during his arraignment on Wednesday morning. Spielman will be arraigned next month. The fourth soldier, Private First Class Bryan Howard, 19, also deferred entering a plea at his arraignment in October.
A fifth person, former US Army private Steve Green, 21, pleaded not guilty last week to civilian charges including murder and sexual assault.
The soldiers were stationed in a violent area known as the "Triangle of Death" because of frequent attacks on soldiers patrolling the roads. Soldiers in Barker's unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment, were often asked to spend weeks manning remote checkpoints, where several from the unit died.
Sheldon told reporters during a news conference following the hearing that Barker took responsibility for his actions, but he also said the US Army was to blame for the way the war in Iraq was being fought.
"The United States Army did not staff, did not put enough soldiers on the checkpoints," Sheldon said. "It's very important that the public knows that this type of thing can happen again if the Army doesn't take measures to put enough troops on the front line in the war against terrorism, the war in Iraq."