Four U.S. soldiers were charged with rape and murder over the weekend in connection with an incident in which officials say soldiers allegedly raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killed her and three members of her family. The charges came just days after a fellow soldier, Steven Green, 21 — now discharged from the service — pleaded not guilty to rape and murder in a civilian court in the case.
In addition to the four newly charged soldiers — who have not been identified — a fifth soldier was charged with "dereliction of duty" for failing to report the March 12 incident in Mahmoudiya.
Green, who is being tried in a civilian court since he is no longer an active military officer, could face the death penalty if convicted. He was discharged from the military for a personality disorder before the alleged rape and murders were uncovered last month.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki has strongly condemned the crime and demanded swift and harsh justice against the soldiers, calling for an independent Iraqi investigation into the matter. Unlike the handful of other current investigations into alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers, investigators have suggested that the murders of the girl and her family did not occur during military operations, but were planned out by the soldiers over the course of up to a week.
According to an affidavit filed in the case, Green allegedly killed three family members — including a girl believed to be 5 years old — before he and another solider raped Abeer Qassim Hamza and then killed her. Two other soldiers allegedly stood guard but did not participate, while another stood at a checkpoint as a lookout. Following the alleged rape, the affidavit says Green and his companions set the family's house on fire, burned their bloodstained clothing and tossed the AK-47 rifle used in the incident into a canal.
The woman's age is in dispute in the case, as Reuters has obtained papers indicating that she was 14 when she was killed, but the U.S. military and FBI have said they believe the girl was 20 or 25. U.S. officials have requested that the body be exhumed in order to determine the woman's age, but Islamic law frowns on autopsies and exhumation of bodies, considering them a desecration of the remains.
The four soldiers charged are being held on their base and have had their weapons taken away, CNN reports. They are now facing an Article 32 investigation, which is similar to a grand-jury investigation, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to launch a military court martial.
The military chain of command has come under fire in another alleged incident of civilian murders by U.S. forces in the town of Haditha (see "Military Inquiry Contradicts Marines Account Of Haditha Deaths"). Over the weekend, the U.S. general leading the investigation into the murder of 24 Iraqi men, women and children in November has concluded that Marine leaders failed to sufficiently investigate the incident once they realized there were conflicting accounts of what took place, according to CNN.
A defense official told CNN that the report by Major General Eldon Bargewell questioned why no investigation was carried out after $38,000 in compensation was paid to Iraqi family members who said their relatives had been murdered; compensation is typically reserved for families whose members have been killed accidentally. In Haditha, Marines are alleged to have killed 24 Iraqi civilians during a bloody rampage following the death of one of their troop members after the explosion of a roadside bomb.