The Mahmudiyah killings was the gang-rape and killing of 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi by United States Army soldiers on March 12, 2006, and the murder of her family, in a house to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq.
Charged with the crimes were five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment consisting of SGT Paul E. Cortez, SPC James P. Barker, PFC Jesse V. Spielman, PFC Brian L. Howard, and PFC Steven D. Green, whom the U.S. Army discharged before the crime’s discovery.
Hamza al-Janabi was raped and murdered after her family consisting of her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Spielman and Green have been convicted and three others have pleaded guilty.
Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi (February 28, 1992 – March 12, 2006), 14, lived with her mother Fakhriya Taha Muhasen, 34, and father Qassim Hamza Raheem, 45, and their three other Children, 6-year-old daughter Hadeel Qassim Hamza, 11-year-old son Mohammed, and his 9-year-old younger brother Ahmed. Their house was situated approximately 200 meters (220 yd) from a six-man U.S. traffic checkpoint, southwest of the village of Yusufiyah, which lies west of the larger township of Al-Mahmudiyah in the coalition-termed area “Triangle of Death”.
According to her neighbours, Abeer spent most of her days at home, as her parents would not allow her to go to school because of security concerns. From their checkpoint, the soldiers would often watch Abeer doing her chores and tending the garden. The neighbors had warned Abeer’s father of this, but he replied it was not a problem as she was just a small girl.
Abeer’s brother Mohammed ,who along with his younger brother was at school at the time of the killings and thus survived, recalls that the soldiers often searched the house. On one such occasion, Green ran his index finger down Abeer’s cheek, an action which had terrified her.
Abeer’s mother told her relatives before the murders that, whenever she caught the soldiers staring at Abeer, they would give her the thumbs-up sign, point to her daughter and say “Very good, very good.” Evidently this had concerned her and she made plans for Abeer to spend nights sleeping at her uncle Ahmad Qassim’s house. According to an affidavit later filed by the FBI, Green discussed raping the girl in the days preceding the event.
The 101st Airborne Division’s 502nd Infantry Regiment had been posted at the edge of the ‘Triangle of Death’ and had been losing one soldier per week. It has been described as a severely undermanned operation that sustained severe casualties in a very short time.
Rape and killings
On March 12, 2006, the soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment at the checkpoint had been drinking alcohol and discussing plans to rape Abeer. Five soldiers of the six-man unit responsible for the checkpoint left their posts for the Qasim farmhouse. The sixth, Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe, was charged with failing to report the attack but did not otherwise participate. Of the five, four of the soldiers were alleged to have directly perpetrated the attack, while Howard acted as lookout. In broad daylight, they walked to the house (not wearing their uniforms) and separated Abeer and her family into two different rooms. Green then murdered her parents and younger sister, while two other soldiers raped Abeer. Green then emerged from the room saying “I just killed them, all are dead”. He then raped Abeer and shot her in the head. After the rape the lower part of Abeer’s body, from her stomach down to her feet, was set on fire. The fire eventually spread to the rest of the room and the smoke alerted neighbors, who were among the first to discover the scene. One recalled “The poor girl, she was so beautiful. She lay there, one leg was stretched and the other bent and her dress was lifted up to her neck.” They ran to tell Abu Firas Janabi, Abeer’s uncle, that the farmhouse was on fire and that dead bodies could be seen inside the burning building. Janabi and his wife rushed to the farmhouse and doused some of the flames to get inside. Upon witnessing the scene inside, Janabi went to a checkpoint guarded by Iraqi soldiers to report the crime.
The Iraqi soldiers immediately went to examine the scene and thereafter went to an American checkpoint to report the incident. This checkpoint was different from the one manned by the perpetrators. After approximately an hour, some soldiers from the checkpoint went to the farmhouse. These soldiers were accompanied by at least one of the perpetrators.
Green and the other soldiers who participated in the incident told the Iraqi Army soldiers who arrived on scene immediately after the incident that it had been perpetrated by Sunni insurgents. These Iraqi soldiers conveyed this information to Abeer’s uncle, who viewed the bodies. This lie having been told, it prevented the event from being recognized as a crime or widely reported amidst the widespread violence occurring in Iraq at that time.
On 16 June, a checkpoint manned by soldiers in the perpetrator’s unit was attacked and overrun. Specialist David Babineau was killed and Pfcs Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca were captured, tortured, and killed. When Yribe heard this, he told Pfc Justin Watt that Green was a murderer. On June 22, 2006, the rape and the murders came to light when Watt revealed them during a psychological health counseling session. Watt stated that he asked to speak with a mental health counselor because he wanted to bypass what he thought would be a skeptical command structure and get an audience with Army investigators.
Green had been honorably discharged from the Army on May 16, 2006, before the crime was recognized, with “antisocial personality disorder”. The FBI assumed jurisdiction for the crime committed by Green under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and charged him with the killings.
On July 11, the Mujahideen Shura Council (now a part of the group Islamic State of Iraq) released a graphic video showing the bodies of Pfcs. Tucker and Menchaca. This video was accompanied by a statement saying that the group carried out the killings as “revenge for our sister who was dishonored by a soldier of the same brigade.” The Washington Post reports that Charles Babineau and two comrades from the same unit were captured and killed by militants a month after the rape. Local Iraqi officials, and American officials, denied the killing of the GIs was an act of retaliation, because the GIs were killed days before the revelation leaked out that American soldiers had committed the rape and murder in Mahmudiyah. At the time of Menchaca and Tucker’s abduction on June 16, 2006, only the perpetrators of the rape and murder, and a few soldiers in their unit engaged in covering up the crime, knew that it had been committed by American soldiers. The crime was revealed by Pfc Justin Watt on June 22, and American responsibility only became “public knowledge” in Iraq on July 4, days after which the video by the Mujahideen Shura Council was released. Also, the abduction occurred on June 16, nine days after the targeted killing of the Shura Council’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on June 7.
The video from the Mujahideen Shura Council claimed that upon learning of the rape/murder, the group “kept their anger to themselves and didn’t spread the news, but were determined to avenge their sister’s honor”, however the video gave no explanation how they had learned in June that American soldiers were responsible. A statement issued along with the video stated that “God Almighty enabled them to capture two soldiers of the same brigade as this dirty crusader.” Other militant groups also made various claims or statements announcing revenge campaigns after the killings were reported on July 4, when the American investigation into the incident was announced.
On July 4, Jaysh al-Mujahidin claimed downing a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache “in retaliation for the child, Abir, whom U.S. soldiers raped in Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad.”
On July 12, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb near the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad, in support of the “Abir operations” targeting the “evil den in the Green prison”.
Green was arrested as a civilian, and convicted by a civilian court, the U.S. District Court in Paducah, Kentucky. The other four, all active-duty soldiers, were convicted through courts-martial.
Steven Dale Green
Green was arrested in North Carolina while traveling home from Arlington, Virginia, where he had attended the funeral of a soldier. On June 30, 2006, the FBI arrested Green, who was held without bond and transferred to Louisville, Kentucky. On July 3, 2006, United States Federal Court prosecutors formally charged him with raping and killing Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, and with killing her six-year-old sister Hadeel, her father, Qassim Hamza Rasheed, and her mother, Fakhriya Taha Muhasen in Mahmoudiyah, on March 12, 2006. On July 10, the U.S. Army charged four other active duty soldiers with the same crime. A sixth soldier, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, was charged with failing to report the attack, but not with having participated in the rape and the murders. On May 7, 2009, Green was found guilty by the federal court in Kentucky of rape and multiple counts of murder. While prosecutors sought the death penalty in this case, jurors failed to agree unanimously on that outcome. On September 4, 2009, Green was formally sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He is being held in the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.
On July 6, 2006, Green entered a plea of not guilty through his public defenders. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Moyer set an arraignment date of August 8 in Paducah, Kentucky.
On July 11, 2006, his lawyers requested a gag order. “This case has received prominent and often sensational coverage in virtually all print, electronic and internet news media in the world.” “Clearly, the publicity and public passions surrounding this case present the clear and imminent danger to the fair administration of justice,” said the motion. Prosecutors had until July 25 to file their response to the request.
On August 31, 2006, a federal judge rejected a gag order. U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell said there is “no reason to believe” that Green’s right to a fair trial would be in jeopardy. Furthermore he added, “It is beyond question that the charges against Mr. Green are serious ones, and that some of the acts alleged in the complaint are considered unacceptable in our society.”
In July 2007, federal prosecutors, led by Brian Skaret of the United States Department of Justice’s Domestic Security Section, announced they will be seeking the death penalty for Green. This is based on the fact that prosecutors believe the rape and killings were premeditated, and were committed using a firearm.
Opening arguments in Green’s trial were heard on April 27, 2009. The prosecution rested its case on May 4, 2009. On May 7, 2009, a federal jury convicted Green of rape and murder, for which he could have received the death penalty. However, on May 21, 2009, Green was spared the death penalty when the jury of nine men and three women could not come to unanimous agreement on a penalty, as a result, he will receive life without parole. Formal sentencing took place on September 4, 2009.
Some said the jury’s indecision may indicate that the public is becoming increasingly aware of combat stress and its effects on soldiers. Green’s defense attorneys argued against the death penalty, presenting military witnesses who testified that Green’s unit suffered unusual stress and heavy casualties, and had insufficient Army leadership. Meanwhile, Abeer’s relatives are outraged at the punishment Green has been given, feeling that Green’s punishment was not harsh enough. This was featured in Aljazeera News.
Green challenged his convictions, claiming that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is unconstitutional and that he should face a military trial. In his first interview since the murders, Green was quoted as saying “I didn’t think of Iraqis as humans”. Green lost his appeal in August, 2011.
Green grew up in Seabrook, Texas, and moved to Midland, Texas, when he was 14. According to school officials, he dropped out of high school in 2002 after completing the 10th grade and moved to Denver City, Texas, where he earned his high school equivalency in 2003. Days after a January 2005 arrest for alcohol possession, Green enlisted in the U.S. Army. In doing so, he was granted a moral character waiver for prior alcohol and other drug related offenses that might have otherwise disqualified him. Green graduated from infantry training and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. According to a military spokesperson and a criminal complaint filed in connection with the charges, Green was honorably discharged from the military “due to antisocial personality disorder but before the military was aware of the incident.” Green was stationed in Iraq from September 2005 to April 2006 and discharged in May 2006.
James P. Barker
On November 15, 2006, Specialist Barker pleaded guilty to rape and murder as part of a plea agreement requiring him to give evidence against the other soldiers to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison, and must serve 20 years before being considered for parole. He wept during closing statements, and accepted responsibility for the rape and killings, saying the violence he had encountered in Iraq left him “angry and mean” toward Iraqis. Despite this show of emotion during closing arguments, Barker showed no such emotion afterward. Journalists reported “he smoked a cigarette outside as a bailiff watched over him. He grinned but said nothing as reporters passed by.”
He is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Paul E. Cortez
On January 22, 2007, Cortez pleaded guilty in a court martial to rape, conspiracy to rape, and four counts of murder as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to 100 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 10 years. Cortez, 24, also was given a dishonorable discharge. He wept as he apologized for the crimes, saying he could not explain why he took part.
He is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Jesse V. Spielman
On August 3, 2007, Private First Class Jesse V. Spielman, 23, was sentenced by a court martial to 110 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 10 years. He was convicted of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape and four counts of felony murder. He had earlier pleaded guilty to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking.
Spielman is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Bryan L. Howard
Private First Class Bryan L. Howard was sentenced by a court martial under a plea agreement to dishonorable discharge and 27 months’ imprisonment for obstruction of justice and being an accessory after the fact. The court found that his involvement included hearing the others discussing the crime and lying to protect them, but not commission of the actual rape or murders.
Howard was given a dishonorable discharge, received a 27-month sentence, and is currently on parole.
Anthony W. Yribe
Initially Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe was charged with obstructing the investigation, specifically, dereliction of duty and making a false statement. He negotiated an “other than honorable discharge” and the dropping of the charges against him in return for his testimony against the other men.
Private First Class Justin Watt, the whistleblower, received a medical discharge and is now running a computer business. He says that he has received threats since coming forward.
Muhammad and Ahmad Qassim al-Janabi, the surviving brothers of murder victim Abeer al-Janabi, are being raised by an uncle, according to testimony in the courts-martial of Cortez, Barker and Spielman. Caitlin Berczik, a spokeswoman for the Iraqi embassy in Washington, said the Iraqi government could provide no information about the children’s whereabouts or how to contact them or their uncle. No compensation or damages have been paid.