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Disturbing Account of Wanton Rape and Murder in Iraq Emerges from U.S. Soldier Trials

Four U.S. soldiers have been convicted for the brutal killing of Abeer al-Janabi and her family -- and now the full story is public.

Four U.S. soldiers have been tried and convicted in military court for the March 12, 2006 assault and murder of Abeer al-Janabi and her family. Now, in the federal court trial of the last man accused, former Pvt. 1st Class Steven Green, information has surfaced that explains more fully what happened that day. This is the first of a two-part report on the Paducah, Kentucky trial.

It is possible that the dying Muslim girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi won what was in her mind the last and the main battle? Abeer, only 14, faced alone three U.S. soldiers who were intent on raping her, with a fourth nearby. As all have testified, Pvt. 1st Class Jesse Spielman stood by during the attack. Tall and strong from work in her family’s subsistence garden, she fought hard, sobbing, screaming, struggling, as three men in succession pried her legs apart and got between them. Brett Barrouquere, Associated Press [AP], reports that Specialist Promotable Paul Cortez and Specialist James Barker testified that they failed to get erections. The defense attorney for Pvt. 1st Class Steven Green, facing the death penalty, questioned whether his client penetrated. To Abeer, fighting with all her strength to hold them off, those facts would have mattered.

Abeer's Iraqi ID card

It does not make the attacks less heinous. Afterward, Green put a pillow on her face and shot her in the head. Soaking her in acrid-smelling flammable liquids, they lit her and fed the fire with blankets thrown onto her body, leaving her in a pool of charred debris. Green is in Paducah, Kentucky, federal court awaiting sentencing for the crimes in Iraq by a panel of nine women and three men, the first civilian jury to try a U.S. soldier for actions during military service. The judging of Green, the last of the five perpetrators to stand trial for the murder of the civilian Iraqi al-Janabi family, is a triumph of a remarkably complex federal legal system, a small, determined group of reporters, including those from the Women’s Media Center who since 2006 have worked to keep Abeer in the world’s mind, and of bloggers throughout the world with the same intention.

The trial however re-opened that story in unexpected ways. Green was the lone shooter who murdered the entire family, so the previous trials of others involved focused exclusively on the gang-rape and arson leaving Green’s actions vague. In his Paducah trial, details about Green and his victims—Abeer and her sister Hadeel, their parents Qassim and Fakhriya—have suddenly swum into view.

The information cleaves through many urban myths about the case. An authoritative rendering will be available in six months, a book by Jim Frederick of Time Magazine. Until then, documents, recent trial testimony, Frederick’s encyclopedic knowledge of the case (It’s Yusufiyah, not Mamoudiyah….Cortez was not a sergeant, His papers had not gone through: he was a specialist promotable.”) and insight from Barrouquere who’s been on the case for three years can clear up more than a few points. Neither, however, is responsible for anything I may have misconstrued.

Living with her family in a farmhouse outside the isolated hamlet of Yusufiyah, 25 k [15.5 m] southwest of Baghdad, Abeer at 14 was not strikingly beautiful, just a very tall teenager who sometimes breathed with difficulty because of asthma. As lanky as a colt, with big dark eyes, she was covered head-to-toe when she went out and stayed home when her two younger brothers went to school each day. Abeer’s Sunni parents had wanted her to learn, to be “free.” But since the U.S. invasion and the breakout of civil war, it was dangerous for girls to be in school—or anywhere. She was afraid to pass the soldiers at the U.S. Army checkpoint near her house because they leered and flirted. The same soldiers watched her as she worked in the field and had even barged in through the door, poking through the house, checking for weapons. One had run his index finger down the side of her face, terrifying her.

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