Mahmudiyah rape and killings
|Mahmudiyah rape and killings|
|Location||Yusufiyah, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq|
|Date||March 12, 2006|
|Target||Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi|
|Perpetrators||4 United States Army soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)|
The Mahmudiyah rape and killings were war crimes involving the gang-rape and murder of 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and the murder of her family by United States Army soldiers on March 12, 2006. It occurred in the family's house to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Other members of al-Janabi's family murdered by American soldiers included her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhasen, 45-year-old father Qassim Hamza Raheem, and 6-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. The two remaining survivors of the family, 9-year-old brother Ahmed and 11-year-old brother Mohammed, were at school during the massacre and orphaned by the event.
Five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment were charged with rape and murder; Specialist Paul E. Cortez (born December 1982), Specialist James P. Barker (born 1982), Private First Class Jesse V. Spielman (born 1985), Private First Class Bryan L. Howard, and Private First Class Steven Dale Green (May 2, 1985 – February 15, 2014). Green was discharged from the U.S. Army for mental instability before the crimes were known by his command, whereas Cortez, Barker, Spielman and Howard were tried by a military court martial, convicted, and sentenced to decades in prison. Green was tried and convicted in a United States civilian court and was sentenced to life in prison. In 2014, he died from complications resulting from a suicide attempt.
Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi (Arabic: عبير قاسم حمزة الجنابي ‘Abīr Qāssim Ḥamza al-Janābī; 19 August 1991 – 12 March 2006), lived with her mother and father (Fakhriya Taha Muhasen, 34, and Qassim Hamza Raheem, 45, respectively) and her three siblings: 6-year-old sister Hadeel, 9-year-old brother Ahmed, and 11-year-old brother Mohammed. Of modest means, Abeer's family lived in a one-bedroom house that they did not own, with borrowed furniture, in the village of Yusufiyah, which lies west of the larger township of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. The family was very close. Her father, Qassim, worked as a guard at a date orchard. Abeer's mother, Fakhriya, was a stay-at-home mom. According to her brothers, little Hadeel, Abeer's 6-year-old sister, loved a sweet plant that grew in the yard, was playful but not very mischievous, and enjoyed playing hide and seek with them. Qassim doted on his family, hoping that he would one day be able to buy a home for them and that they would live and eat like everyone else. He also had a dream that his children would finish college. According to her neighbours, at the time of the massacre, Abeer spent most of her days at home, as her parents would not allow her to go to school because of security concerns. Having been born only months after the Gulf War, which devastated civilian infrastructure in Iraq, and living her entire life under sanctions, followed by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, Abeer had dreams as well, hoping to one day live "in the big city" (Baghdad). Her relatives describe her as proud.
Although she was only a 14-year-old child, Abeer endured repeated sexual harassment from U.S. soldiers. Abeer's home was situated approximately 200 meters (220 yards) from a six-man U.S. traffic checkpoint (TCP), southwest of the village. 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 murders and thus survived) recalls that the soldiers often searched the house. On one such occasion, Private First Class Steven D. 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's (Ahmad Qassim's) house. According to an affidavit later filed by the FBI, Green discussed raping the girl in the days preceding the event.
In an interview before his arrest, Steven Green told The Washington Post "I came over here because I wanted to kill people. The truth is, it wasn't all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience. And then I did it, and I was like, 'All right, whatever.' I shot a guy who wouldn't stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing. Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza.'"
James Barker's parents divorced when he was a child since he and his siblings were abused. His mother, Roselia Barker, said her husband hit James with a belt and sticks, pulled his hair, and put him down verbally. While Barker was in high school, his father died at the age of 73 in October 1998. James visited his father in the hospital while he was dying. James graduated from Fresno High School in 1997. James was described as an obedient son, but his mother kicked him out of the house for not having a job. He was married at one point but divorced his wife. James had two children with his wife and one child with his girlfriend.
Rape and murders
On March 12, 2006, soldiers at the checkpoint (from the 502nd Infantry Regiment) – consisting of Green, Specialist Paul E. Cortez, Specialist James P. Barker, Private First Class Jesse V. Spielman, and Private First Class Bryan L. Howard – had been playing cards, illegally drinking alcohol (whiskey mixed with an energy drink), hitting golf balls, and discussing plans to rape Abeer and "kill some Iraqis." Green was very persistent about "killing some Iraqis" and kept bringing up the idea. At some point, the group decided to go to Abeer's home, after they had seen her passing by their checkpoint earlier. The four soldiers of the six-man unit responsible for the checkpoint – Barker, Cortez, Green, and Spielman – then left their posts for Abeer's home. Two men, Howard and another soldier, remained at the post. Howard had not been involved in discussions to rape and murder the family. He heard the four men talking about it and saw them leave, but thought they were joking and were planning to beat up some Iraqi men to blow off some steam. The sixth soldier at the checkpoint had no involvement.
On the day of the massacre, Abeer's father Qassim was enjoying time with his family, while his sons were at school. In broad daylight, the four U.S. soldiers walked to the house, not wearing their uniforms, but wearing army-issue long underwear to look like "ninjas", and separated 14-year-old Abeer and her family into two different rooms. Spielman was responsible for grabbing Abeer's 6-year-old sister, who was outside the house with her father, and bringing her inside the house. Green then broke Abeer's mother's arms (likely evidence of a struggle that resulted when she heard her daughter being raped in the other room) and murdered her parents and younger sister, while two other soldiers, Cortez and Barker, raped Abeer. Barker wrote that Cortez pushed Abeer to the floor, lifted her dress, and tore off her underwear while she struggled. According to Cortez, Abeer “kept squirming and trying to keep her legs closed and saying stuff in Arabic,” as he and Barker took turns holding her down and raping her. Cortez testified that Abeer heard the gunshots in the room in which her parents and little sister were being held, causing her to scream and cry even more as she was being violently raped by the men. Green then emerged from the room saying, "I just killed them, all are dead". Green, who later said the crime was "awesome", then raped Abeer and shot her in the head several times. After the massacre, Barker poured petrol on Abeer and the soldiers set fire to the lower part of the girl's body, from her stomach down to her feet. Barker testified that the soldiers gave Spielman their bloodied clothes to burn and that he threw the AK-47 used to murder the family into a canal. They left to "celebrate" their crimes with a meal of chicken wings. Meanwhile, the fire from Abeer's body 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 Army soldiers to report the crime. Abeer's 9- and 11-year-old younger brothers, Ahmed and Mohammed, returned from school that afternoon to find smoke billowing from the windows. After going to their uncle's home, they returned to the house only to be traumatized, finding their father shot in the head, mother shot in the chest, 6-year-old sister Hadeel shot in the face, and 14-year-old sister Abeer's remains burning.
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. clarify][
Iraqi soldiers arrived on scene shortly after the incident. Green and his accomplices lied to them that the massacre had been perpetrated by Sunni insurgents. These Iraqi soldiers conveyed this information to Abeer's uncle, who viewed the bodies. U.S. investigators concluded that Iraqi insurgents had murdered the al-Janabi family. This lie was conveyed up to high command. The truth about the massacre was successfully concealed. The murders were not widely reported since Iraq was dealing with widespread violence. Several soldiers heard of or were told about the murders, but chose not to say anything. In May 2006, Green was honorably discharged after he was found to have a "personality disorder". That disorder turned out to be antisocial personality disorder.
Alleged 2006 retaliation
On July 10, the Mujahideen Shura Council (now a part of the Islamic State) 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 other individuals from the same unit were captured and killed by militants a month after the rape. Local Iraqi officials, and U.S. officials, denied the killing of the GIs was an act of retaliation, because the soldiers were killed days before the revelation leaked out that U.S. soldiers had committed the massacre 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 it had been committed by U.S. soldiers. The truth behind the crime was revealed on June 20, 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 massacre, the group "kept their anger to themselves and didn't spread the news, but were determined to avenge their sister's honor". Locals may have been able to deduce the guilt of the U.S. soldiers from the nearby checkpoint, after the Americans and their Iraqi cohort unit provided the explanation, "Sunni extremists did this." A portion of locals served as auxiliary support for both for Al Qaeda in Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Auxiliary support supplied material aid and performed a human intelligence support function. Relaying the accusation of the local MNC-I unit to the insurgents was a basic function of that support. The Sunni extremists were able to eliminate themselves as suspects and, having an already low opinion of the U.S. military, may have assumed the guilt of the 101st Airborne soldiers. 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 U.S. investigation into the incident was announced.
On July 4, Jaysh al-Mujahidin claimed responsibility for 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".
Exposure and legal proceedings
Shortly after the June 16 attack, a soldier from the unit, PFC Justin Watt, spoke with a fellow soldier, Sergeant Anthony Yribe. During their conversation, Yribe told Watt who was actually responsible for killing the al-Janabi family. Watt then approached Bryan Howard, who confirmed everything. Neither Yribe nor Howard were planning to talk.
Watt felt differently. However, he was anguished over the situation. He wanted to talk, but was terrified of retaliation. He called his father, Rick Watt, back home. Rick was an Army veteran. Watt asked his father, "If you knew something bad about your brothers, would you come forward?" Watt's father asked him for details, but he said he couldn't give any. Finally, Rick Watt told his son that whatever had happened would have to be monstrous. "Heinous," he said, "is the only reason for giving up a brother."
Watt then talked to an officer in his platoon, Sergeant John Diem. Watt trusted Diem; he told him he knew a terrible crime had been committed and asked for his advice, knowing if he reported the crime he would be considered a traitor to his unit, and could possibly be killed by them. Diem told Watt to be cautious, but said he had a duty as an honorable soldier to report the crime to the proper authorities. The two men did not trust their chain of command to protect them if they reported a war crime. Around June 20, 2006, Watt opened up to Diem, who immediately reported the crime himself.
Four days later, the battalion leader, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Kunk, went to the checkpoints where Cortez, Barker, and Spielman were assigned. Kunk questioned them about the reported incident. All of them denied any knowledge or involvement. Kunk then went to Watt's patrol base. In interviews later on, Watt recalled the incident:
Kunk had confronted Watt while he was on sentry duty, and took him to a small, dark room in a run-down building. Several soldiers, including Yribe, watched as Kunk screamed at Watt that he should charge him with filing a false report, and accused him of trying to get out of the Army. Kunk asked Watt why he would want to ruin his fellow soldiers' careers, and told him he was just repeating false information. Watt explained why he reported the incident. However, Kunk silenced him and told him to return to his post, which Watt did.
Watt then watched Kunk load up his convoy and leave. According to interviews, this was the exact scenario that Watt had feared. He had just been publicly identified as the whistleblower, then abandoned. He was now at an imminent risk of being murdered. "I can’t explain to you how I felt watching that convoy drive away," Watt recalled. "I thought I was a dead man."
However, Diem, who was at another checkpoint down the road, saw the convoy leaving Watt's patrol base. Diem asked Kunk if he had taken Watt with him. Kunk replied that he had not. Diem said, "You have to go back and get him. If you leave him there, they’ll kill him."
Green, Barker, Cortez, Spielman, Howard, and Yribe were all arrested within days of this incident. Since Green had already been discharged from the military, the FBI assumed jurisdiction over him under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with the murders. 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, federal prosecutors formally charged him with raping and murdering Abeer, and with murdering her parents and younger sister. On July 10, the U.S. Army charged four other active duty soldiers with the same crime. Yribe, was charged with failing to report the attack, but not with having participated in the massacre.
On July 11, 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, a federal judge rejected the 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."
Opening arguments in Green's trial were heard on April 27, 2009. The prosecution rested its case on May 4. 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 and the death sentence could not be imposed. On September 4, Green was formally sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. That Green was spared the death penalty provoked outrage from the family's relatives, with Abeer's uncle describing the sentence as "a crime -- almost worse than the soldier's crime". Green was held in the United States Penitentiary, Tucson, Arizona, and died on February 15, 2014, from complications following an attempt at suicide by hanging.
Green challenged his convictions, claiming that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is unconstitutional and that he should face a military trial. Green lost his appeal in August 2011.
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 a possible death sentence. He told the judge "I hated Iraqis, your honor. They can smile at you, then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."
During his sentencing hearing, numerous fellow soldiers testified in favor of the argument that Barker could eventually be rehabilitated. They described Barker going weeks with minimal support and sleeping as he manned checkpoints. Captain William Fischbach, the lead prosecutor, said this was no excuse for Barker's actions and requested a life term without parole. "This burned-out corpse that used to be a 14-year-old girl never fired bullets or lobbed mortars," Fischbach said as he held pictures of the crime scene. "Society should not have to bear the risk of the accused among them ever again." Quivering as he spoke, Barker began weeping as he said "I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did. I do not ask anyone to forgive me today." He said the violence he had encountered in Iraq left him "angry and mean" toward Iraqis.
Ultimately, Barker was sentenced to 90 years in prison with the possibility of parole and must serve 10 years before being considered for parole. He was also dishonorably discharged, demoted to the rank of Private, and ordered to forfeit all of his pay and allowances. Journalists reported that "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 a possible death sentence. During his sentencing hearing, his lawyers argued that he was under war-related stress. Cortez was sentenced to 100 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years. He was also dishonorably discharged, demoted to the rank of Private, and ordered to forfeit all of his pay and allowances. Tears rolled down his face as he apologized for his roles in the murders. "I still don’t have an answer," Cortez told the judge. “I don’t know why. I wish I hadn’t. The lives of four innocent people were taken. I want to apologize for all of the pain and suffering I have caused the Al Janabi family." He is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Jesse V. Spielman
On August 3, 2007, Spielman, 23, was sentenced by a court martial to 110 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years. He was also dishonorably discharged, demoted to the rank of Private, and ordered to forfeit all of his pay and allowances. He was convicted of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape, and four counts of felony murder. He initially pleaded guilty to conspiracy toward obstruction of justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse, and drinking. After the verdict, Spielman's grandmother fainted, while his sister, Paige Gerlach, screamed "I hate the government. You people put him there and now, this happened." Spielman is held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Bryan L. Howard
Howard was sentenced by a court martial under a plea agreement for conspiracy to obstruct 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 sentenced to 27 months in prison, demoted in rank to Private, and dishonorably discharged.
Anthony W. Yribe
Yribe was initially charged with obstructing the investigation, specifically, dereliction of duty and making a false statement. In exchange for his testimony against the other men, the government dropped the charges against Yribe and he was given an other than honorable discharge.
Watt, the whistleblower, received a medical discharge and is now running a computer business. He says that he received death threats after coming forward; however, starting in 2010, he was asked by the US Army Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) at West Point, New York, to be interviewed and speak before Army Profession audiences about his decision to report the crimes in accordance with his moral obligation to uphold the Army Ethic.
Muhammed and Ahmed Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the surviving brothers of murder victim Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, are being raised by an uncle, according to testimony in the courts-martial of Cortez, Barker and Spielman.
In popular culture
- The 2007 war film Redacted is loosely based upon the events at Mahmudiyah.
- The incident and the ensuing investigations were described in the book Black Hearts by Jim Frederick, published in 2010.
- The play "9 Circles" by Bill Cain follows Daniel Reeves, a character based on Steven D. Green, through the aftermath of Mahmudiyah and was performed in 2011 at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles.
- The attacks are referenced in the 2017 episode “Fair Game”, of the television series Homeland.
- The incident was covered extensively in March 2018, in Case 78 of Casefile True Crime Podcast. The podcast also released an interview with Watt on February 1, 2020.
- The initial reporting of the incident is discussed first-hand by Watt in episodes "Justin Watt Part 1" and Justin Watt Part 2" of the podcast Hazard Ground
- Incident on Hill 192
- Sexual assault in the U.S. military
- FOB Ramrod kill team
- Human rights in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq
- Hamdania incident
- Haditha massacre
- 2004 Fallujah ambush
- John E. Hatley
- Kandahar massacre
- United States war crimes
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