By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 7, 2006
BAGHDAD, Aug. 6 -- An Iraqi medic who responded to a home where U.S. soldiers allegedly raped and killed a teenage Iraqi girl and murdered her sister and parents described on Sunday a display of carnage so horrific he said it made him sick for two weeks.
In the opening day of testimony in a military hearing in Baghdad to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a court-martial for five U.S. soldiers, the medic, whose name was withheld for security reasons, testified that he saw smoke when he arrived at the family's home in Mahmudiyah on the afternoon of March 12. Inside, on the floor of the living room by the window, a teenage girl lay dead on her back, her legs spread, her clothes torn off, her body burned from her waist to her head, a single bullet hole under her left eye, he said.
Her mother also lay dead on the floor with bullet wounds in her chest and abdomen, he said.
In another room, the medic found what remained of the girl's father in a pool of blood. "The brain was on the floor and parts of the head were all over the place," the medic said. Next to him was his other daughter, who was about 6years old. It appeared to him as if a bullet had "entered the front of her face and out the back of her head," he said.
With the help of Iraqi soldiers, the medic said, he put the remains of the family in bags and stored them in an air-conditioned ambulance because there was no room at the Mahmudiyah hospital.
The case is one of the most brutal in a series of recent incidents in which U.S. soldiers allegedly killed Iraqis. The sexual nature of the crime has outraged Iraqis, and the killings caused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to call for a review of rules that prevent U.S. troops from being tried in Iraqi courts.
The U.S. military has charged four soldiers from the B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment -- Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard -- with rape and murder. A fifth soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement for allegedly failing to report the incident. And a sixth man, former Army private Steven D. Green, who was discharged for a "personality disorder," pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges in a federal court in Kentucky.
At Sunday's hearing at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad International Airport, defense attorneys questioned the medic's medical training and posed the possibility that the family had already been dead before they were shot. During a cross-examination, the medic admitted he could only assume the family was shot to death, but said, "I believe that's how they were killed, which is what I've told you."
The soldiers' battalion commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, said he received a phone call on June 17 from the company commander, Capt. John Goodwin, informing him of the alleged murders and asking his guidance. At first incredulous, Kunk said, he went to the area south of Baghdad the next morning to begin his investigation.
"Absolutely not, I did not believe that report," he said. "I wanted to get on the ground."
Kunk recalled that Green, one of the alleged ringleaders in the incident, once said, "All Iraqis are bad people."
"I told him that that wasn't true, and that 90 to 95 percent of the Iraqi people are good people and they want the same thing that we have in the United States," Kunk said.
One of the defense attorneys, Capt. James D. Culp, who sucked on lollipops during his cross-examination, questioned Kunk about whether the unremitting violence in the area south of Baghdad patrolled by the soldiers caused combat stress. Kunk said most of the soldiers in the battalion were able to deal with the deaths of their fellow soldiers.
Two other Iraqi witnesses also testified at the hearing, but reporters were kept from hearing their statements out of concern that the witnesses might be later targeted.
The hearing took place on another violent day in Iraq. In Tikrit, a man detonated explosivesattached to himself inside a funeral service. The blast killed 15 people and wounded 30 others, according to Iraqi army officials.
A witness, Omar Ghalib, 23, said the suicide bomber parked his car near the funeral hall and walked in wearing a light blue dishdasha , the traditional Iraqi robe.
"He went inside as if he wanted to offer condolences, and then a few seconds later, the explosion occurred," Ghalib said.
Police found the man's car also rigged with bombs, said 1st Lt. Norras Hamid of the Tikrit police. Tikrit General Hospital had received seven corpses and 14 injured people, said physician Jassim Dulaimi, but "we believe there are more dead bodies which have not been evacuated or were evacuated by their families directly."
[Early Monday, heavy gunfire and explosions rattled the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Government television and aides to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said U.S. aircraft were attacking buildings in the area, the Associated Press reported. Southwest of the capital, three U.S. soldiers were killed late Sunday in a roadside bombing, the U.S. military said.]
Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim and other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.