By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006
An Army specialist who admitted that he and a group of other U.S. soldiers raped a 14-year-old girl and killed her and her family in an Iraqi village was sentenced to 90 years in prison yesterday, by far the longest sentence for a U.S. soldier in connection with the death of an Iraqi civilian since the war began in 2003.
Spec. James P. Barker, 23, could be eligible for parole in 20 years, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that spares him the possibility of a death sentence. Barker has indicated he will testify against other soldiers in the case, some of whom face the death penalty.
Barker yesterday became one of 16 U.S. troops sentenced to prison time for the deaths of Iraqi civilians during the war, and he received a sentence of more than three times the length of the next-longest sentence in any case that has concluded. Two soldiers are serving 25-year sentences in unrelated homicide cases.
Also yesterday, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the death of an Iraqi man near Hamdaniyah. As part of a deal, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
The slaying of the girl, Abier Kassim Hamzah Rashid al Janabi, on March 12 was particularly shocking because it had no connection to military combat operations and was carefully planned by soldiers who had spotted her while patrolling the Mahmudiyah area weeks before. The girl's father, mother and young sister were also killed, and soldiers set the teenager's body on fire to try to conceal the crime.
In a nine-page document that provides chilling details of the case, Barker confessed to plotting the attack on Abier with other soldiers as they played cards and drank whiskey mixed with a carbonated energy drink. The soldiers donned disguises, cut through chain-link fences and sneaked into the house, planning to kill everyone inside, according to the document.
The soldiers alternated holding Abier down on the floor while raping her, according to the document.
Another soldier, former Pfc. Steven D. Green, herded Abier's family members into a bedroom before shooting them, according to Barker's account. Green then raped and killed Abier, according to the document.
"I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did," Barker said in court, the Associated Press reported. "I do not ask anyone to forgive me today."
Barker said he became "angry and mean" as a way to survive in the austere and dangerous conditions where he served south of Baghdad, and as a result he began to hate everyone in Iraq.
Attorneys for Barker have argued that he was under extreme pressure and emotional distress while working in the Yusufiyah area, an insurgent stronghold where U.S. forces faced daily attacks and were severely understaffed. David Sheldon, Barker's civilian attorney, said he believes his client's sentence should make it difficult for prosecutors to get the death penalty against the other soldiers.
"Specialist Barker took responsibility for his actions and has expressed sincere remorse for his conduct," Sheldon said. "This sends a clear message to the government that it will be difficult to obtain a death sentence against any of the defendants, including Pfc. Green."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.