US to Court-Martial Eight Soldiers Accused of Murder in Iraq

Eight US soldiers will be court-martialed on charges of murdering Iraqis, including four accused of killing a raped girl and her family, the military said Wednesday.

The four other soldiers are charged with murdering three Iraqi prisoners they had seized in a raid and threatening to kill a fellow soldier if he reported what happened.

Two of the four soldiers accused in the rape and murder of the 14-year-old girl and her family could face the death penalty, the US army said in a statement. The six other soldiers face a maximum penalty of life in jail without the chance for parole.

These incidents were among a series of high-profile allegations that US troops killed Iraqis amid rising violence and tension in the region.

One of the most serious was a claim that US marines went on a rampage at Haditha in western Iraq on November 19, killing 24 civilians after one of their comrades was killed by a roadside bomb. It is still under investigation by military officials.

The incident involving the girl provoked a different kind of outrage because she was allegedly stalked by the soldiers rather than killed during an ambiguous combat situation.

Five soldiers are accused of shooting the girl's father, mother and five-year-old sister then raping the teenager, killing her and setting her house on fire to cover their tracks on March 12.

The accused ringleader, Steven Green, is being tried in civilian court because he was discharged from the military because of a "personality disorder" before the incident came to light. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and will be arraigned on Nov 8.

Prosecutors at a military hearing held in Iraq charged that the crime was a result of a detailed plan by the soldiers.

Prosecutor Captain Alex Picklands dismissed defence arguments that the killings could be attributed to the stressful conditions at the soldiers' checkpoint in Mahmudiyah.

"They gathered together over cards and booze and came up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl," he said.

Picklands said the soldiers chose the girl after seeing her on the street.

"She was young and attractive. They knew her because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable," the prosecutor said.

Meanwhile, the soldiers accused of slaying three detainees on May 9 said during a military hearing that they were ordered to "kill all military-aged males" but only shot the men after they broke the plastic cuffs binding their hands, assaulted their captors and attempted to flee.

Some of the witnesses who confirmed they had heard that order from Colonel Michael Steele testified that this did not apply to suspects who were clearly surrendering during the assault on a suspected insurgent base on an island in the Tigris river.

The investigation of the four men from the famed Kentucky-based "Rakkasans" -- the 3rd Combat Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division -- focused a critical light on the US military's controversial and opaque rules of engagement in Iraq.

The unit's motto, which is emblazoned in front of brigade headquarters in Tikrit, ousted president Saddam Hussein's hometown, is: "We give the enemy the maximum opportunity to die for his country."

A witness at the hearing confirmed that the unit kept a board recording a "kill count", but that it had been taken down because it was felt to be in "bad taste" after it was used to record the death of a pregnant woman shot at a roadblock.

A date has not yet been set for the courts-martial, the military said.

Charged with conspiracy to commit a premeditated murder in the case of the slain prisoners are: Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard; Specialist William Hunsaker; Specialist Juston Graber; and Private Corey Clagett.

Charged with rape and conspiracy to commit a premeditated murder in the case of the girl and her family are: Sergeant Paul Cortez; Specialist James Barker; Private Jesse Spielman; and Private Bryan Howard. Cortez and Spielman could face the death penalty.   

Source: AFP

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