By Ellen Knickmeyer and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; A13
BAGHDAD, July 10 -- Military authorities on Monday disclosed that they had filed capital charges of premeditated rape and murder against four of the five active-duty soldiers accused in an attack on an Iraqi family in March.
A 15-year-old Iraqi girl, who was allegedly raped, was killed along with her mother, father and younger sister in the attack in a village near Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James P. Barker and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman are charged with rape, murder, housebreaking, arson and drinking alcohol against military rules, the U.S. military said in a statement. Another soldier, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, was charged with premeditated murder, rape and obstruction of justice. The four soldiers could face the death penalty if convicted.
The fifth active-duty soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement for allegedly failing to report the incident. Yribe was not directly involved in the attack, U.S. military spokesmen in Baghdad said.
The incident is one of the gravest of a series being investigated by the U.S. military in which Americans are accused of killing Iraqi civilians.
"Again, these are alleged offenses," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters. "They're presumed innocent until proven guilty."
A sixth man, Steven D. Green, a former private, was discharged from the military for a "personality disorder" after the Mahmudiyah killings but before fellow soldiers identified American soldiers as the alleged culprits, sparking the criminal investigation. Green pleaded not guilty last week in Louisville to federal charges of rape and murder.
A federal affidavit in Green's case and accounts given to The Washington Post by neighbors, an uncle of the 15-year-old, the local mayor and medical authorities allege that at least four of the soldiers came to the home of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi after noticing her from their post at a U.S. Army checkpoint near her home.
The assailants allegedly shot and killed Abeer's father, mother and 7-year-old sister, then raped and killed Abeer in another room. Abeer's body and part of the room were set on fire, apparently in an attempt to conceal the crime, U.S. investigators and Iraqi officials said.
The federal affidavit alleges that Green fired all of the shots and was one of two soldiers who directly participated in the alleged rape.
In Chambersburg, Pa., a woman answering the telephone at a contact number listed for Spielman declined to identify herself directly but said Spielman was her son.
"We haven't been told anything. We haven't heard anything, and that's the truth," the woman said. Relatives had yet to be able to contact Spielman to hear from him directly, she said.
Asked if the family had anything it wanted known about Spielman, she said, "Just that we're proud of him," her voice breaking, before hanging up the phone.
Yribe, the sergeant charged with allegedly failing to report the killings, spoke last month at a memorial for Army Spec. David J. Babineau, according to an entry posted by Yribe's mother at a Web site for slain American service members.
Babineau was killed in an attack near Mahmudiyah last month. Two other U.S. soldiers with him were abducted. Their mutilated bodies were found days later, with bombs planted around them, officials said.
"Tony is devastated as he knows that you are, and wants you to know that you will never be alone, and that he cares a great deal about you," Yribe's mother, Roberta Dachtler, wrote then, in a message posted for Babineau's family.
Reached Thursday by telephone in her native Idaho, Dachtler said: "I personally am not making statements at this point for my own son's protection. I do invite you to check back again."
U.S. soldiers initially said insurgents killed the family, and relatives of the victims said little publicly about the case because of the shame associated with rape in conservative Muslim culture. Local authorities have said they do not believe last month's killings of the three soldiers came in retaliation for the March attack on Abeer and her family.
All of the soldiers involved were from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which is attached to the 4th Infantry Division.
A Time magazine report in March into allegations that Marines wrongly shot dead 24 civilians in the western city of Haditha signaled the start of some of the first extensive and public U.S. military investigations into cases of alleged U.S. killings of Iraqi civilians. Eleven U.S. troops since have been charged in two unrelated killings of a total of four Iraqi men.
Researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.