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US soldier described rape and murders, Iraq hearing told

By AFP

08/07/06 -- - BAGHDAD (
AFP) -- A US military investigator has said that a soldier had confessed to him that he and a comrade had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before another suspect raped her and killed her family.

Testifying at a hearing that will decide whether to charge five servicemen with rape and murder, Special Agent Benjamin Bierce said 23-year-old Specialist James Barker had given a detailed account of the alleged rape and massacre.

According to Barker's sworn written statement, which was given to the probe panel, on March 12 soldiers had been drinking Iraqi whisky mixed with an energy drink and practising golf swings at a checkpoint south of Baghdad.

One of the men, 20-year-old Specialist Steven Green, said that he "wanted to go to a house and kill some Iraqis", the statement said on Monday.

Four of the accused -- Barker, Sergeant Paul Cortez, Private Bryan Howard, Private Jesse Spielman -- agreed with Green's plan, changed into black silk underwear and masks and set off for the family's nearby home, it said.

A fifth soldier, 22-year-old Anthony Yribe, could face charges for failing to report what he later found out about the killings. He refused to testify Monday on the grounds that he could incriminate himself.

Green has been discharged from the army because of a "personality disorder" and has been charged separately with rape and murder in a civilian court. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial is pending.

The other accused could face penalties up to and including death penalty if this week's Article 32 military hearing at a US base at Baghdad airport decides that they should face court martial.

According to Bierce's account of Barker's confession, Howard remained outside the selected Iraqi home with a radio to act as lookout, while the others herded a family of four inside.

Barker wrote that Cortez pushed the 14-year-old to the floor. He threw her dress up over her waist and tore her underwear away. The girl tried to put her knees together and struggled with the soldiers, he wrote.

Cortez and Barker attempted to rape the girl in turn. Barker "said in his statement he was having problems getting an erection and that he wasn't sure if he penetrated her", Bierce told the tribunal.

Special Agent Gary Griesmyer, who also testified Monday, said he questioned Cortez who confirmed how they changed their clothing and covered their faces to look like insurgents.

Griesmyer said Cortez confirmed that he held the girl down as Barker raped her. The weeping child pleaded to be set free, but Barker told her to "shut up" after the rape, Cortez said, according to Griesmyer.

Meanwhile, Green took the girl's parents and five-year-old sister into another room. Shots rang out and he came back, saying "They're all dead. I just killed them," the hearing heard.

Green took his turn to rape the girl, then shot her dead with a captured AK-47 assault rifle. Kerosene was poured over the girl and someone -- it was not clear who -- set her alight, Bierce said, citing Barker's testimony.

Barker's account did not implicate Howard or Spielman in the rapes or the murder, but he testified that they had taken part in the break-in and had cooperated in the burning of the house and of their clothes.

Another witness Special Agent Michael Hood, trained in administering polygraphy tests, confirmed that Spielman had passed the tests when asked whether he participated in the gruesome massacre.

After the murders, the troops returned to their checkpoint 200 metres away and "grilled chicken wings", the statement said.

Another witness, Private Justin Watt, described how he had pieced together what had happened from conversations with the accused in his unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

"I feared for my safety at the TCP (traffic control point)," Watt told the hearing, describing his fear of retribution within his unit.

"It's like this, I find out that guys in my squad, guys I trusted with my life, are allegedly responsible for one of the most brutal rapes slash murders I've ever seen. And everyone has a weapon and grenades," he said.

"There's nothing I've read that says what to do if your buddies have raped and murdered a family," he added.

Under defence cross-examination, Watt also told of how the unit had become demoralised and stressed after several fatal attacks on their exposed position by Iraqi insurgents.

"I was going to get a memorial tattoo of all the guys (who were killed), but there's not enough room on my arm," Watt said.

The allegations came to light when stress counsellors talked to the squad after an incident in which two soldiers were abducted at a checkpoint south of Baghdad and later brutally murdered.

The hearings continue.

Copyright AFP

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