By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
BAGHDAD, Aug. 7 -- A U.S. soldier charged with the rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl and the deaths of three of her relatives described to army investigators how he and his comrades hatched the plot during a morning of drinking whiskey, playing cards and hitting golf balls, an Army investigator testified Monday.
Spec. James P. Barker, 23, made the graphic admission in an interview and sworn statement, Special Agent Benjamin Bierce said at a hearing in Baghdad to determine whether the soldiers should face a military trial.
On March 12, Barker and three other soldiers donned black masks and entered the girl's home in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, Bierce said. The home was a few hundred yards from where the soldiers were manning a vehicle checkpoint.
Three of them -- Barker, former private Steven D. Green and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez -- took turns sexually assaulting the girl in the living room before Green shot her several times with an AK-47 assault rifle, said Bierce, citing Barker's June 30 statement. Then Barker poured lamp kerosene on her and someone set her on fire, Bierce said.
Barker, in his statement, said he was in the living room with the girl when he heard gunshots in the bedroom where the soldiers had corralled her mother, father and younger sister. Then, according to Bierce's testimony, Green came into the living room looking agitated and said words to the effect of: "They're all dead. I just killed them."
After the killings, the soldiers went back to their checkpoint, where Barker grilled chicken wings, Bierce testified.
The testimony came in the second day of hearings in the Article 32 military proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to launch a court-martial.
The case is one of the most brutal in a string of recent allegations of U.S. soldiers killing Iraqi civilians. Any sign of leniency toward the soldiers could strain U.S. relations with Iraq's new government, whose prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has called for an independent investigation.
Before the attack, Green repeatedly said he wanted to kill some Iraqis, Bierce testified. Green, according to Barker's statement, was the ringleader in both planning the attack and killing the family, Bierce said. Green has pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges in federal court in Kentucky.
Pfc. Justin Watt, the whistle-blowing soldier who disclosed the attack during a counseling session, testified he had first heard about it from Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe. His suspicions, he added, were later confirmed by Pfc. Bryan L. Howard. Watt said discussing the attack "had to be done."
"If you have the power to make something right, you should do it. Investigation is not my job. But if something went down -- something terrible like that -- then it's my obligation to come forward," Watt said.
Watt said life for some of the soldiers in the B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, was miserable while they manned a military post in nearby Yusufiyah. Some had gone a month without showering and lived in a "dilapidated, abandoned water treatment facility" he testified.
At one point, two soldiers from the unit were killed at a checkpoint when an Iraqi man came up as if he wanted to shake hands and shot them, Watt said.
"I watched two guys I cared a lot about die right in front of me," he said, adding, "I was going to get a memorial tattoo of all the guys [killed], but there's not enough room on my arm."
Watt added that he was worried for his own safety when he learned about the alleged attack on the Iraqi family.
"It's like this: I find out that guys in my squad, guys I trusted with my life, are allegedly responsible for one of the most brutal rape-murders I've ever seen. And everyone has a weapon and grenades," he testified.
The U.S. military has charged four soldiers from the unit -- Barker, Cortez, Howard and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, -- with rape and murder.
Yribe was charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement for allegedly failing to report the incident.
During the hearing, Special Agent Michael Hood, a trained polygraph administrator, testified that Spielman passed a lie-detector test when he said he did not kill or have sex with anyone in the house.
Army investigators said that the attack took about 20 minutes and that the killings were carried out with an AK-47 taken from the family's home. Defense attorneys appear to be building the case that the harsh conditions in Iraq and combat stress played a role in the attack.