Steven Green Trial: A Bargain to Let War Criminals Go?

As the jury deliberates in federal court in Paducah, Kentucky, the spotlight is on defendant ex-U.S. Army Private Steven Green, but that leaves the other four soldiers involved in his crime in the shadows. The four are serving time, with quite long sentences in three instances -- 110 years [Pvt. 1st Class Jesse Spielman,] 100 years [Specialist Promotable Paul Cortez] and 90 years [Specialist James Barker.] Green's defense attorney however pointed out in closing arguments that federal prosecutors offered them help in getting out on parole in seven years if they testified against Green. An average sentence reduction of 90 years for cooperation is one sweet deal, especially in this case.

In prosecuting the hate-crime slaughter by U.S. soldiers of the al-Janabi family in Iraq, and the gang rape of the teenage daughter, the five men are in federal custody; by the evidence, there is no question that the crimes occurred nor that it was these men who perpetrated them. Should any of the four men already sentenced be so quickly freed in order to nail the fifth, Green -- especially if he has already confessed?

Green was the killer, no question. An obviously disturbed soldier who reportedly wore his pants torn to partly expose his genitals, he was so enraged by the deaths of ambushed U.S. soldiers that he kept shouting that he wanted to kill Iraqi civilians. He was called a "virus" by others in the platoon because his fury seemed contagious. Using an AK-47 and a shotgun, Green shot the father as he tried to shield his wife and youngest daughter, Hadeel; next he shot the mother as she too tried to cover Hadeel with her body; then he killed the cornered six-year-old with point-blank shots to her face. Going into the next room, he then joined in the gang-raping of 14-year-old Abeer before killing her. A few weeks after the killings Green dropped a puppy off the top of a building, and finding it still alive, burned it.

However, while Green is portrayed as the "ringleader," there is an argument that it was actually Barker. Barker by his own admission picked the al-Janabis to attack because he wanted to rape Abeer. Determined to leave no witnesses, he was prepared to kill the family, but enlisted Green's help by promising him that he could be the trigger man. Barker next went to Paul Cortez, who having just been aproved for sergeant's stripes was their non-commissioned officer [NCO.] Nothing had at that point happened to the al-Janabi family. They were alive and it was just a sick plan. Yet far from talking the two enlisted men out of the proposed crime, let alone alerting higher ups, almost-Sergeant Cortez decided to join in, insisting that he get the "privilege" of raping Abeer first. Barker made that deal. Private Jesse Spielman went with them and Pvt. Bryan L. Howard was posted as a guard.

While Green was shooting the parents and younger sister, Barker with his hands and knees pinned the arms of the sobbing, struggling and screaming Abeer to the floor while Cortez pulled off her stockings, lifted her dress, brutally forced her legs apart and raped her. Next they switched so Barker could have "his turn." Then Cortez held her down for Green. After Green killed her, they with Spielman burned her and tried to burn the house down. But complicity does not stop there. Investigating the crime, Sgt. Anthony Yribe of the 101st Airborne entered the house with Sgt. Cortez and was amazed to see Cortez begin violently retching. He entered the bedroom where the parents and little girl lay dead and spotted a spent U.S. military shotgun shell. With Cortez, he suppressed the evidence. Green spontaneously confessed (initially bragged about) the crimes to Yribe, but instead of turning Green in, or officially noting the confession of gang rape and multiple murder, Yribe pushed Green out of the Army with an honorable discharge and back into civilian life in the United States, with a personnel file noting "antisocial personality disorder."

When all this was discovered, Yribe was dishonorably discharged. Howard the guard got 27 months. Speilman who helped burn the dead teenager and the home, but unlike Cortez and Barker played no direct part in the rape -- and unlike Green had not taken part in the killing -- got the longest (110 year) sentence simply because the others had pled guilty and he contested. Green ended up in the civilian federal court system, and in 2009 got a jury trial in Paducah Kentucky which just wrapped up. The verdict is expected at any moment. And, if beneath the fog of the Green trial the sentences of Spiellman, Barker or Cortez are reduced to seven years, they will be out on U.S. streets in 2013.

This story is continuously unfolding. For an updated explanation of the murders, based on the most recent testimony, check Part I.
Part II covers the trial outcome and the officers who got away.

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