Mahmudiyah rape and killings

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Mahmoudiyah Killings
Abeer Qassim Hamsa.jpg
Abeer Qassim Hamza at the age of seven
Mahmudiyah rape and killings is located in Iraq
Mahmudiyah rape and killings
LocationYusufiyah, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq
Coordinates33°04′N 44°13′E / 33.06°N 44.22°E / 33.06; 44.22Coordinates: 33°04′N 44°13′E / 33.06°N 44.22°E / 33.06; 44.22
DateMarch 12, 2006
TargetAbeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi
Attack type
war rape, mass murder
Perpetrators5 U.S. 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. Others of al-Janabi's family murdered 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.[1] The two remaining survivors of the family, 9-year-old brother Ahmed and 11-year-old brother Mohammed, who were at school during the massacre, were orphaned by the event.

Charged with the crimes of rape and murder were five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment consisting of Sergeant Paul E. Cortez, Specialist James P. Barker, Private First Class Jesse V. Spielman, Private First Class Brian L. Howard, and Private First Class Steven D. Green.[2] Private 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 U.S. Army General Courts Martial and convicted of the crimes and sentenced to prison.[2] Green was tried in a United States civilian court and convicted of rape and the four murders and also sentenced to life in prison.[3]


Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi (Arabic: عبير قاسم حمزة الجنابي‘Abīr Qāssim Ḥamza al-Janābī; 19 August 1991 – 12 March 2006),[4][5] 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.[6] 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 the occupying 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.[7][8] 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.[8] 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, Green ran his index finger down Abeer's cheek, an action which had terrified her.[9] 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.[9][10] According to an affidavit later filed by the FBI, Green discussed raping the girl in the days preceding the event.

Rape and murders[edit]

On March 12, 2006, Barker, Cortez, Green, and Spielman, soldiers at the checkpoint (from the 502nd Infantry Regiment), 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."[11] Specifically, Barker, Cortez, and Green had planned to rape a girl, while Howard was to be the lookout. Green was very persistent about "killing some Iraqis" and kept bringing up the idea. At some point, they decided to go to Abeer's home, after they had seen her passing by their checkpoint earlier. The five soldiers of the six-man unit responsible for the checkpoint, Barker, Cortez, Green, Howard, and Spielman, then left their posts for Abeer's home. The sixth soldier at the checkpoint, Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe, continued to man the traffic control point and was later charged with dereliction of duty by failing to enforce the general order of no alcohol consumption by American soldiers, failing to keep the men at their assigned post, and not reporting the attack. Yribe was also charged with making a false official statement for his role in an initial cover-up of the crimes. Of the five, four of the soldiers directly participated in the crimes, while Private First Class Howard acted as lookout, but did not otherwise participate.[2]

On the day of the massacre, Abeer's father Qassim was enjoying time with his family, while his sons were at school.[12] In broad daylight, the five U.S. soldiers walked to the house, not wearing their uniforms, but wearing army-issue long underwear to look like "ninjas",[9] and separated 14 year-old Abeer and her family into two different rooms. Pfc. Jesse V. 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.[13] 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 6 year-old younger sister, while two other soldiers, Sgt. Paul Cortez and Spc. James Barker, raped Abeer.[14] 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.[15] 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".[16] He, who later said the crime was "awesome",[17] then raped Abeer and shot her in the head several times. After the rape and murders, Barker poured petrol on and the soldiers set fire to the lower part of Abeer'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 in a canal. They left to "celebrate" their rapes of Abeer and massacre of the family with a meal of chicken wings.[18] 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.[2] 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."[10] 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. 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.[19]

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.

Cover up[edit]

Green and the other soldiers who participated in the incident lied to the Iraqi Army soldiers who arrived on scene immediately after the incident, telling them that it had been perpetrated by Sunni insurgents. These Iraqi soldiers conveyed this information to Abeer's uncle, who viewed the bodies. This lie prevented the event from being recognized as a crime or widely reported amidst the widespread violence occurring due to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.[9][20]

On June 16, a checkpoint manned by soldiers in the perpetrators' unit was attacked and overrun. Specialist David Babineau was killed and Privates First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca were captured, tortured, killed and their bodies mutilated.

Sergeant Yribe learned of their torture and he told Private First Class Justin Watt, a newly assigned soldier to Bravo Company, that Green was a murderer. Private Watt conducted a personal inquiry about this alarming act by a fellow soldier and coworker. He talked to other members of his platoon who revealed to him that the gang-rape and murder had in fact occurred. Watt then reported what he believed to be true to another Non-Commissioned Officer in his platoon, Sergeant John Diem. Watt trusted Sergeant Diem; he told him that he knew a terrible crime had been committed and asked for his advice, knowing that if he reported the crime he would be considered a traitor to his unit and could possibly be killed by them. Sergeant Diem told him to be cautious, but that he had a duty as an honorable soldier to report the crimes to the proper authorities. Unfortunately, they did not trust their chain of command to protect them if they reported the war crime. As a result, Private First Class Watt asked to speak with a mental health counselor, thereby bypassing the chain of command to report the crimes.[2] On June 22, 2006, the rape and the murders came to light when Watt revealed them during a mental health counseling session and on to Army criminal investigators.[21]

Before Watt reported the crimes, Green had previously been honorably discharged from the Army on May 16, 2006, before the crime was recognized, with "antisocial personality disorder".[22] The FBI assumed jurisdiction for the crime committed by Green under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act[23] and the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with the murders.[22]

Alleged 2006 retaliation[edit]

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."[24][25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28][29]

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". Locals may have been able to deduce the guilt of the US soldiers from the nearby check point, 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 1920s Revolutionary Brigade. Auxiliary support comprised both material aid and performing a human intelligence support function. Relaying the accusation of the local MNC-I unit to the insurgents, is a basic function of that support. The Sunni extremists were able to eliminate themselves as suspects and having an already low opinion of the US military, may have assumed the guilt of the 101st Airborne soldiers. From the perspective of the insurgency, whether or not they had evidence or confessions to prove the guilt of the US soldiers, the accusation alone was a propaganda victory.[citation needed] 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.[30][31]

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."[32] 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".[33]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Green was arrested as a civilian, and convicted by a civilian court, the U.S. District Court in Paducah, Kentucky.[34] The other four, all active-duty soldiers, were convicted through courts-martial.

Steven Dale Green[edit]

Green in December 2005.

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 murdering Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, and with murdering 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.[3] While prosecutors sought the death penalty in this case, jurors failed to agree unanimously and the death sentence could not be imposed.[35] On September 4, 2009, Green was formally sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.[36] The decision to spare Green from 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".[37] He was held in the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, and died on February 15, 2014, from complications following an attempt at suicide by hanging.[38]


May 2009 booking photo, Mecklenberg County Sheriff's department

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.[39] 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.[40] Prosecutors had until July 25 to file their response to the request.[41]

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."[42] In July 2007, federal prosecutors, led by Brian Skaret of the United States Department of Justice's Domestic Security Section, announced that they would seek the death penalty for Green, based upon the prosecutors' belief that the rape and murders were premeditated, and were committed using a firearm.[citation needed]

Opening arguments in Green's trial were heard on April 27, 2009.[43] The prosecution rested its case on May 4, 2009.[44] On May 7, 2009, a federal jury convicted Green of rape and murder, for which he could have received the death penalty.[45] 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 received life without parole.[46] Formal sentencing took place on September 4, 2009.[36][47]

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.[47] At the same time, Abeer's relatives were outraged at the punishment Green has been given, feeling that Green's sentence was insufficient; the story was featured in Al Jazeera News.[48]


Green challenged his convictions, claiming that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is unconstitutional and that he should face a military trial.[49] In his first interview since the murders, Green was quoted as saying "I didn't think of Iraqis as humans".[50] Green lost his appeal in August 2011.[51]


Green grew up in Seabrook, Texas, and moved with his family to Midland, 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 diploma in 2003. Days after a January 2005 arrest for underage 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."[52] Green was deployed to Iraq from September 2005 to April 2006 and discharged in May 2006.[53] He is the first man prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, signed in 2000, which gives the federal government the power to pursue criminal cases against U.S. soldiers for acts committed in foreign lands.[54]

James P. Barker[edit]

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, followed by a dishonorable discharge. He wept during closing statements, and accepted responsibility for the rape and murders, saying the violence he had encountered in Iraq left him "angry and mean" toward Iraqis.[55] 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."[56] He is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.[57]

Paul E. Cortez[edit]

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 followed by a dishonorable discharge.[58] He wept as he apologized for the crimes, saying he could not explain why he took part.[59] He is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.[57]

Jesse V. Spielman[edit]

Pfc. 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, followed by a dishonorable discharge. 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 toward obstruction of justice, arson, necrophilia and drinking.[60] Spielman is currently held in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.[57]

Bryan L. Howard[edit]

Private First Class Bryan L. Howard was sentenced by a court martial under a plea agreement 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.[61][62] Howard served a 27-month sentence and was dishonorably discharged.[57]

Anthony W. Yribe[edit]

Initially Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe was 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 him and he accepted an administrative discharge characterized as "other than honorable".[57][63][64]


Justin Watt[edit]

Private First Class Justin Watt, the whistleblower, received a medical discharge and is now running a computer business. He says that he received death threats after coming forward;[57] 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. Watt and Sergeant Diem have both done so, including venues at which hundreds of senior Army leaders were present, for which their acts were given standing ovations.[citation needed]


Muhammed and Ahmed Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the surviving brothers of murder victim Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, are being raised by an uncle,[2] according to testimony in the courts-martial of Cortez, Barker and Spielman.

In popular culture[edit]

  • 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.[65][66]
  • The play "9 Circles" by Bill Cain follows Daniel Reeves through the aftermath of Mahmudiyah and was performed in 2011 at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles.[67]
  • 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.[2]
  • The initial reporting of the incident is discussed first hand by Justin Watt in episodes "Justin Watt Part 1" and Justin Watt Part 2" of the podcast Hazard Ground

See also[edit]


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