By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 4, 2006; A01
A former U.S. Army soldier was charged yesterday with the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the slayings of three of her family members in their home south of Baghdad in March, federal prosecutors said.
Several soldiers allegedly planned the attack over drinks after noticing the woman near the traffic checkpoint they manned in Mahmudiyah, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The soldiers allegedly worked out an elaborate plan to carry out the crime and then cover it up, wearing dark clothes to the home, using an AK-47 assault rifle from the house to kill the family, and allowing authorities to believe that the attack was carried out by insurgents, investigators said.
Former Pfc. Steven D. Green, 21, and other members of 1st Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, allegedly carried out the crimes on March 12. Several soldiers told authorities that Green killed all four people and that he and another soldier raped the young woman.
The plan worked, at least until soldiers began discussing the incident last month while they were going through stress counseling after two other members of their platoon were captured at a checkpoint and beheaded by insurgents. Army officials began investigating the day after hearing about the events in Mahmudiyah.
Green, who was honorably discharged from the Army for an unspecified "personality disorder" before U.S. officials were aware of the alleged crimes, was arrested Friday at his grandmother's house in Marion, N.C., on a federal warrant. Four other soldiers who have been implicated in the attack but were not named in the federal court documents remain in Iraq. None has been charged.
Cecilia Oseguera, a federal public defender who represented Green at an initial hearing yesterday in Charlotte, said that Green has not yet entered a plea and that he is incarcerated awaiting a preliminary hearing on July 10. She declined to comment further.
The case is the fifth in recent weeks in which U.S. troops have been accused of killing civilians in Iraq, a spate of incidents that has drawn attention to the way U.S. forces operate in what is often a complex and confusing battlefield. The rape and murder allegations against Green, however, detail a crime that appears to have had little if anything to do with the prosecution of the war itself.
Federal prosecutors are pursuing four charges of murder and one charge of rape against Green, said Marisa Ford, chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney's office in the Western District of Kentucky. In a rare move, the Justice Department is pursuing the charges because Green is no longer in military service.
The case was filed in Kentucky because it is the home district for the 101st Airborne Division, of which the 502nd Infantry Regiment is a part. If convicted, Green could face the death penalty.
According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Gregor J. Ahlers, the crimes appeared carefully crafted. Soldiers told Army investigators that Green and another soldier discussed raping the woman and had previously been to her residence, about 200 yards from their traffic checkpoint. Before leaving for the house, they also said, Green and two others drank alcohol and changed into dark clothes.
One soldier was left at the checkpoint to man the radio, while four others headed to the home, armed with three M4 rifles and a shotgun, according to the document. With one soldier guarding the door, the three others entered. Green covered his face with a brown T-shirt, grabbed an AK-47 rifle from the house and herded an adult couple and a young girl -- who authorities estimated was 5 years old -- into a bedroom. Green then shot them, according to authorities.
"Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, 'I just killed them, all are dead,' " Ahlers wrote. Green and another soldier then allegedly raped the other daughter before Green shot her two or three times in the head with the AK-47. Military officials estimated her age at 20, although neighbors and hospital officials in Iraq said she was 15. She apparently was set on fire in an attempt to hide the crime.
Neighbors identified the young woman as Abeer Qasim Hamza. They said she had expressed concerns about the U.S. troops to her mother in the days before her death because the soldiers made advances toward her. According to death certificates viewed over the weekend, also killed in the attack were Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 34; Qasim Hamza Raheem, 45; and Hadeel Qasim Hamza, 7. Army officials could not confirm the names of the dead yesterday.
Soldiers told investigators that Green and others returned to the Army checkpoint with blood on their clothes, which they later burned. Green told one of the soldiers to throw the AK-47 into a canal.
According to the criminal complaint, Iraqis notified the U.S. soldiers of the killings and reported that the house was on fire on the afternoon of March 12. A soldier who allegedly was in the house during the crime was one of those who later responded to the scene. Army investigators have 15 photographs of the bodies, taken to record what was believed at the time to be an insurgent attack.
Green, who grew up in Midland, Tex., joined the Army after receiving his GED, and later went to Fort Benning, Ga., for infantry training, according to his family. He graduated in June 2005, and family members joined him at the ceremony.
"It was such a proud day," Green's uncle, Greg Simolke, said in an interview last night. "He had found direction in his life, something important and something that he really wanted to do. He was talking about making the military his career and was ready to go to Iraq. He thought it was a good thing to be serving his country."
Last week, Green traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral of a member of his platoon who was killed in an insurgent attack south of Baghdad, Simolke said. It was during that attack that two other soldiers were captured by insurgents and later beheaded.
Green, traveling by car, stopped in North Carolina to visit relatives on his way to and from Arlington. Simolke talked with Green and did not notice anything unusual, and the topic of the war did not come up often, the uncle said. Simolke said he was unfamiliar with the details of Green's discharge and knew nothing about the alleged crimes.
"When he was here for this visit, he seemed like the same old Steve," Simolke said. "I don't understand what happens in a war, so I don't know how these things happen."
Mahmudiyah Mayor Mouyad Fadhil Saif said in a telephone interview that Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, who commands the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, told him during a meeting yesterday that "a homicide was committed here" and that U.S. military leaders would offer an official apology when the investigation is complete.
Kunk also told the mayor that U.S. officials would ask relatives of the victims where the bodies were buried so they could be exhumed for a forensic analysis. Saif said he advised Kunk to respect the family's wishes and those of local religious authorities about whether digging up the bodies was appropriate.
Maj. Jose Garcia, a spokesman for the brigade to which the 502nd is attached, confirmed that Kunk met with the mayor but declined to comment on what was discussed.
Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, said yesterday that the most important thing is how the military responds.
"The military is a reflection of society, and because of that there is always a percentage of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who get it terribly wrong," Batiste said. "I also think the people of Iraq respect the U.S. military and will keep that in perspective. They'll appreciate the way we investigate and hold people accountable."
An Army official said yesterday that Green's discharge for a personality disorder does not necessarily indicate a mental disorder. Such a notation can be used to document willful disobedience or a personality that does not mesh well with military life.
Staff writer Jonathan Finer in Baghdad and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.