Amid War, Some Violence May Be Personal

By Sonya Geis and John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 16, 2006

On March 12, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl was raped, and she and her father, mother and sister were gunned down in their home.

Three months later, three U.S. soldiers were slain by insurgents. One was shot and two others were kidnapped and killed and their bodies mutilated in what a group linked to al-Qaeda declared was retribution for the attack on the Iraqi family.

Four soldiers and one former soldier have now been charged in connection with the rape and homicides. Another soldier has been charged with failing to report the incident.

One of the questions surrounding two of the most dreadful incidents of the war is whether they are connected. Did the alleged rape and murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops beget the torture and slaying of their own comrades?

Earlier this month, the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council posted a gruesome video on the Internet showing the soldiers' disfigured bodies and said they were executed to "avenge" the rape and homicides. Army investigators deny the claims and say there is no connection between the incidents, though military spokesmen did not respond to questions last week about why they believe that.

Whether or not the episodes are connected, it is clear that the soldiers themselves were connected, bound by their experiences in combat. Members of the same unit, many of them were friends with one another. The alleged rape and homicides came to light, investigators said, only when some of the soldiers underwent a "combat stress debriefing" prompted by the deaths of the three soldiers.

The soldiers were all members of 1st Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Some family members said they believe there must be some connection between the two incidents.

"There's nine guys on a squad," said Nancy Hess, mother of Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 21, who is one of the five charged in the crimes. "Three of them were killed. Six of them are being charged."

The three were Spec. David J. Babineau, shot during an ambush in which Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker were kidnapped. Menchaca was found with his throat slit, and he was so badly beaten he was unrecognizable. Tucker had been beheaded.

In addition to Spielman, those charged are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James P. Barker, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard and a former private, Steven D. Green, who had been discharged from the military for a personality disorder. Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe has been charged for failing to report the incident.

Spielman was close to Menchaca, Tucker and Babineau, his mother said. She said her son and other soldiers discovered Babineau's body at a checkpoint after Menchaca and Tucker were kidnapped. "His very best friend was laying there," Hess said.

Yribe's mother, Roberta Dachtler, said her son was particularly close to Babineau and eulogized him in a memorial service at the regiment's base camp south of Baghdad. "David was one of my son's closer friends," she said.

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