Thursday, July 06, 2006

And I thought Haditha was bad... now comes Mahmoudiya (updated July 6)

Original Post (June 30)

Fresh news from the Washington Post today:

BEIJI, Iraq -- Five U.S. Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three members of her family in Iraq, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press on Friday.

The soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of raping.

Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. It did not elaborate.


The killings appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

Absolutely disgusting.... words cannot express the revulsion we should feel at a crime like this.

Update (July 1)

The Washington Post published a new article today on the alleged rape and murder in Mahmoudiya, which gives a bit more insight into the incident. Some excerpts:

Mahmudiyah police Capt. Maaly Hassan Felayh said the killings in March took place in a rural neighborhood called Stream Three, three miles south of the town center.


Another local resident, Sadeq Muhammed al-Janabi, a farmer, said the woman who was raped and killed was an elementary school teacher.

The Associated Press issued a report that provided some additional details:

The Americans entered the Sunni Arab's family home, separated three males from the woman, raped her and burned her body using a flammable liquid in a cover-up attempt, a military official close to the investigation said. The three males were also slain.

The soldiers had studied their victims for about a week and the attack was ``totally premeditated,'' the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The family had just moved into the home in the insurgent-riddled area around Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Australia's Herald Sun had some additional details:

In Baghdad, the US military issued a sparse statement, saying only that a criminal investigation had been ordered into the alleged slaying of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, 30km south of Baghdad.

According to a senior US Army official, the incident was revealed by a soldier during a routine counselling-type session. That soldier did not witness the incident, but heard about it.

A second soldier, who also was not involved, said he overheard soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes and later saw bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.

One other disturbing detail: one of the three males who were allegedly killed was a child.

The news coverage of this incident is just starting to build momentum. We still do not know the woman's name, or the names of her family members who were killed, and we have not seen pictures of them. I expect these details will start to come out in the next few days as the news media continues to investigate this incident.

Update (July 3, 12 noon):

The Washington Post published more details about the case today. The rape victim was a 15 year old girl named Abeer Qasim Hamza. Here are a few excerpts from the Washington Post article:

BAGHDAD, July 2 -- Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.

As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmudiyah, her mother told the neighbor.

Abeer told her mother again and again in her last days that the soldiers had made advances toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation he said he had with the girl's mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.


Before leaving, the attackers fatally shot the four family members -- two of Abeer's brothers had been away at school -- and attempted to set Abeer's body on fire, according to Janabi, another neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity, the mayor of Mahmudiyah and a hospital administrator with knowledge of the case.


Janabi was one of the first people to arrive at the house after the attack, he said Saturday, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent at the home of local tribal leaders. He said he found Abeer sprawled dead in a corner, her hair and a pillow next to her consumed by fire, and her dress pushed up to her neck.

"I was sure from the first glance that she had been raped," he said.


Death certificates viewed Sunday at the Mahmudiyah hospital identified the victims as Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 34, killed by gunshots to her head; Qasim Hamza Raheem, 45, whose head was "smashed" by bullets; Hadeel Qasim Hamza, 7, Abeer's sister, shot; and Abeer, shot in the head. Abeer's body also showed burns, the death certificate noted.

On a separate note, the Associated Press reported today that a former soldier was charged in US District Court with rape and murder. Here is an excerpt from CNN:

(AP) -- An Army veteran of the fighting in Iraq has been charged in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina, with murder and rape in a March 12 attack on an Iraqi family.

Steven Green, who has been discharged from the Army, was arrested in recent days in North Carolina, two federal law enforcement officials said Monday.

The fact that this case has progressed so quickly, and that charges have already been filed just a week into the investigation, suggests that the evidence here is very strong.

Update (July 3, 4 PM):

The Associated Press has released a few more details:

Steven D. Green, a 21-year-old former Army private first class who was recently discharged because of a "personality disorder," appeared in a federal magistrate's courtroom in Charlotte Monday.


Prosecutors said Green and others entered the home of a family of Iraqi civilians, where Green shot the three relatives, and he and another soldier raped the woman and killed her. According to an accompanying affidavit, photos taken by Army investigators in March showed a burned body of "what appears to be a woman with blankets thrown over her upper torso."

FBI agents arrested Green on Friday in Marion, N.C. He is being held in Charlotte without bond pending a transfer to Louisville, Ky.

The case is being handled by federal prosecutors there because Green, who served 11 months with the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is no longer in the military. According to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, he was given an honorable discharge "before this incident came to light. Green was discharged due to a personality disorder."

He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of murder.


According to the affidavit's account, the soldiers changed their clothes before going to the woman's residence to avoid detection. Once there, the affidavit said, Green took three members of the family _ an adult male and female, and a girl estimated to be 5 years old _ into a bedroom, after which shots were heard from inside.

"Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, 'I just killed them. All are dead,'" the affidavit said.

The affidavit is based on interviews conducted by the FBI and investigators at Fort Campbell with three unidentified soldiers assigned to Green's platoon. One of the soldiers said he witnessed another soldier and Green rape the woman.

"After the rape, (the soldier) witnessed Green shoot the woman in the head two to three times," the affidavit said.

Update (July 3, 5 PM):

Here is a picture of Steven D. Green (center) the accused ringleader of this rape/murder being escorted from the US Federal Courthouse in Charlotte after his first court appearance today:

Photo: Patrick Schneider of the Charlotte Observer

The Charlotte Observer adds a few other interesting details about Steven Green:

He was due to return a rental car in Fort Campbell over the weekend. Records show he is registered to vote in Midland, Texas.Green was arrested and charged by civilian authorities because he's no longer in the Army, but he could be reinstated into the service and tried in a military court, an Army spokesman said.

Update (July 3, 8 PM):

Here is a link to the the 10 page long criminal complaint, filed on Friday in US District Court in the Western District of Kentucky, against Steven D. Green. In this complaint, Green is charged with violations against Title 18 of the United States Code, sections 7 (Special Maritime & Territorial Jurisdiction), 1111 (Murder), 2241 (Aggravated Sexual Abuse), and 3261(a)(2) (Criminal Offenses by Certain Members of the Armed Forces).

The criminal complaint is quite disturbing to read. According to this complaint, Green and three other soldiers plotted the rape for a week. They changed into dark clothing so as not to be seen. After arriving at the house, Green first took three members of the victim's family (her mother, father, and little sister) into a room, closed the door, and shot them dead with an AK47 the men found in the house. Then, Green and one other soldier raped the woman, and after they were done, Green took the same AK47 and shot her in the head. After returning to the base, the men removed their blood-stained clothing and burned it.

The criminal complaint has a few differences versus the Washington Post investigation. The number and sex of the victims are the same in both accounts, however the criminal complaint estimates the rape victim's age as 25 years old (while the Post investigation has her as a 15 year old girl). It is important to note that the criminal complaint estimates the victim's age, based on the appearance of her partially burned body as seen in pictures from the crime scene. It is quite feasible that one could mistake the body of a 15 year old girl in that condition as being 25 years old. It is also important to realize that the FBI did not know the identity of the victims when the complaint was released - this only came to light today with the Washington Post article.

I wonder if any additional charges will be added as a result of the victim's young age, now that her identity is known.

Update (July 6):

The LA Times published a report today, titled In Cold Blood: Iraqi Tells of Massacre at Farmhouse. In the article, they interviewed Abu Firas Janabi, a cousin of Abeer's mother Fakhriya. Janabi described the family as simple subsistence farmers making their living off a small plot of land, and that Abeer, like many peasant girls her age, was not in school and seldom left the house.

Janabi and his wife were the first on the scene after the murders, as described in this excerpt:

"Never in my mind could I have imagined such a gruesome sight," Abu Firas Janabi said of the day in March when his cousin, Fakhriya Taha Muhsen; her husband, Kasim Hamza Rasheed; and their two daughters were slain and their farmhouse set ablaze.

"Kasim's corpse was in the corner of the room, and his head was smashed into pieces," he said. The 5-year-old daughter, Hadel, was beside her father, and Janabi said he could see that Fakhriya's arms had been broken.

In another room, he found 15-year-old Abeer, naked and burned, with her head smashed in "by a concrete block or a piece of iron."

"There were burns from the bottom of her stomach to the end of her body, except for her feet," he said.

"I did not believe what I was seeing. I tried to fool myself into believing I was in a dream. But the problem was that we were not dreaming. We put a piece of cloth over her body. Then I left the house together with my wife."

Janabi also accompanied Abeer's two surviving brothers (who were at school that day) to the US Army base in Mahmoudiya to visit a high-ranking US Army officer who had wanted to express his condolances:

The investigator told him that a high-ranking U.S. officer wished to pay his condolences to the family. The next day, he brought Fakhriya's cousin, Mohammed, to the base along with the two boys to meet the commander.

"He hugged the children and kissed them several times," Janabi said. "It was hard for him to control his tears."

One of the more interesting quotes in the article is this one:

Janabi said he learned of the inquiry involving the soldiers last week, and an American investigator asked him to tell his side of the story.

"He was saying that he wants to find out the truth," Janabi said. "I told him I didn't want any money or compensation. The most important thing is that the criminal must be punished in a punishment in the same level of the crime he committed. He must not be imprisoned for four to six months and that is all."

I don't think Janabi has to worry about anyone getting off with a slap on the wrist in this case. From these allegations, Steven D. Green is perhaps the best example in a long time of why certain crimes carry the death penalty here.