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Steven Green Trial Goes To Jury Deliberation

The story below was my first take on a complex case. For a comprehensive updated story of the atrocity check Part I.
Part II covers the trial outcome and the officers who got away.

Former U.S. Army Private First Class Steven Dale Green waits at the defendant's table in a Paducah, Kentucky federal courthouse, on trial for his life--a slender young man with deep dark circles around his eyes, close-cropped hair, an aquiline face and a habit of lightly tapping his pen alternately against his right ear and his mouth. Green spent his 24th birthday, May 2, 2009, in this room facing 17 counts of gang-rape and multiple murder, and days have passed with polite, quiet jurors in middle class clothes sitting in two rows adjacent to him, listening intently to witnesses or staring attentively into individual computer screens when visuals appear. On May 5, Green, having never taken the stand, watched the last defense witnesses testify, leaning forward briefly to put his head on the table toward the end. Apart from a radio operator who explained communications acronyms, his visibly traumatized 101st Airborne Division buddies dominated his defense witness pool, speaking of months with only four hours of sleep a night, seeing friends and commanders blown apart and killed, while expecting to die themselves.

As General Ray Odierno noted in a 60 Minutes tape played by the defense, in 2007 Baghdad and the area to its southwest would be patrolled by 30,000 U.S. troops; but back in 2006 when Green was there, one thousand troops were trying to do the same job. The witnesses said that the family whom Green and the other four soldiers had slaughtered were killed because they were Iraqi; that combatants and non-combatanbts seemed indistinguishable; or as one said with what sounded like bewildered accusation, "they look just like me and you," they were "all out to get us."

The military command does not buy the "war made me do it" gambit. Four of the men who acted with Green have been convicted by military tribunal and put away -- for 110 years in one case--and two of the convicted ones were here testifying against Green. Yet Green -- who bragged about his part in the premeditated gang rape and multiple murders to an Army officer, enlisted men, and a stateside friend -- has pled "not guilty." Unlike the others, Green is being tried in a civilian court, because after his confessions instead of turning him in or even making it a matter of record, the officer pushed him out of the Army with an honorable discharge, noting "antisocial personality disorder." When the others were arrested, Green was beyond the reach of military law.

Civilian jurors might be more sympathetic than military judges; but Green could, if he loses, get the death penalty. The location, the origin of the jurors, matters greatly. The crimes in question were committed in a family home outside the desert hamlet Yusufiyah near the town al-Malmudiyah southwest of the sprawling city of Baghdad, Iraq. Steve Green however is being tried in Paducah, a subtropical town 7,000 miles away, near the Airborne's home base of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, U.S.A.. Lush Paducah is in a region fed by more navigable rivers than any other spot in the world, with a Lowertown market restoration area, a uranium enrichment plant and a quilt museum. Yet many people here do not know that Al Jazeera suddenly has a local press pass, or why it does, or what "that soldier case" is about, or that the world is watching. For those few local people actively interested in this, Steve Green is a Rorschach: their opinions serving to underscore the conflicting perspectives that could decide Green's fate. Overheard sentences float in from various people. "He's a babyfaced kid; he looks 15!", "He looks like a velociraptor." "They should remember why he went there--to serve. Things happen in war," "Death is too good for him," "He was on Ritalin as a kid. Did you hear that? They ought to outlaw that stuff." "What he did was a disgrace to this country and to a proud uniform."

Clete Libby, studying for a criminal justice associate's degree, remarks, "The courtroom can hold 45 people not involved in the trial. When I heard about this case, I thought, 'There's no way I'll get in,' but there's no one here. There's an overflow room downstairs where you can't see but you can pick up audio. I think some reporters use that so they won't have to stay long. But one of my teachers is ex-FBI. They were expecting crowds and, because of the death penalty possibility, protesters. There's nothing."

The uniformed men checking people at the courthouse door indeed look as idle as Maytag repairmen. Most Paducah folks with whom I talked wondered why the police bothered to block traffic around the federal courthouse at Broadway and Fifth last Monday. There were only twelve folks viewing the trial yesterday, five of us from the media. It's arguably not a lack of public intelligence and curiosity; it's a failure of local journalism. The Paducah Sun, which is blocks from the federal courthouse, is not supplying daily or in-depth coverage, and local broadcast news does not supply enough information on the complex case to fill a tweat. The report of one anchor was simply, "There were two witnesses today." There sure were; that was the day that two of Green's co-conspirators testified for the prosecution. To summarize what has been established in five separate trials:

Anita Williams, a licensed counselor who darted in to watch the case, noted Green's lack of affect even when a horrific photo of the nude savagely raped teen with her head blown apart was shown. "He did that. One of the others who testified said they were drinking and popping pills at 9 am., put on ninja masks and suits and snuck out, cut through fences to 'beat up some Iraqis.' Bottom line he killed and raped a 14-year-old. He shows no remorse. That's symptomatic of antisocial personality disorder. Everyone's noticing that there is no family here to support him. There are a lot of women on the jury and they will feel sympathetic toward someone that alone but I don't know that that will outweigh the rest."

{Actually, Green's family is quietly in the background at the trial. One says, "There are family members here. Steve is not alone. We love and support Steve in these increasingly difficult times.")

The facts are stark and well-established over the course of the separate trials of the five perpetrators:

Fourteen-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi's home in Iraq was a sturdy farmhouse full of light in an isolated area but only a few hundred yards from a U.S. traffic checkpoint [TCP.] After watching the tall, modestly-dressed girl working in her family's field, U.S. 101st Airborne Private James Barker, as he testified, decided to rape her. He recruited Green, who wanted to kill some civilian Iraqis and then their sergeant. In uniform, Barker became bold enough to barge into her home, leering at Abeer in front of a family which was helpless to stop U.S. troops in full gear. Off again to themselves, drinking whiskey which they would later say they got from the Iraqi Army, the eventually five U.S. soldiers reasoned that the family would be easy to kill and that nothing more substantial than her parents stood between them and Abeer. Sex was incidental; the goal, their testimony makes clear, was to hurt Iraqis. All but one of the five got out of uniform, putting on the dark Army long underwear that the Army had designed to keep them warm at night, which they thought looked like "ninja" gear. Then they deserted their post, maneuvering through backyards to burst into the house in black clothes in full daylight.

While Specialist James Barker pinned a terrified Abeer down, and Cortez raped her, Green shoved her parents and six-year-old sister Hadeel at gunpoint into a room with him and shut the door. The mother Fakhriya Taha Muhasen and the father Qassim Hamza Raheem huddled in a corner trying to shield Hadeel, so Green killed the father, then the mother, then Hadeel, shooting the six-year-old point blank in the face with an AK47. He then re-entered the main room where she was, threw the AK47 down, raped Abeer, and standing up from doing it, put a pillow over her face and shot and killed her.

The soldiers used kerosene to set the lower part of her dead body on fire, and after they left, flames caught the house, bringing the family's relatives who saw the smoke then the bodies. They ran to the U.S. checkpoint for help, but two of the killers who were among the U.S. troops responding managed to blame the slaughter on "insurgents." Abeer's two younger brothers, surviving because they had been at school, came home to find their house burned, their family dead and blood and brains all over the walls. The killers meanwhile celebrated with a barbeque. Green bragged to anyone who would listen about what he had done. Then he confessed to a sergeant but Green, unpunished, was honorably discharged with a diagnosis of "antisocial psychiatric disorder."

Al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] soon after the gang rape and murders attacked a Yusufiyah checkpoint, killing one and kidnapping two members of the 101st Airborne--Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Lowell Tucker. None of the three had been involved in the crimes. Al-Qaeda operatives tortured the two captured U.S. soldiers, beheaded them, then while videotaping drug the bodies through the streets, set them on fire, stomped on Menchaca's head, displayed Tucker's head like a prize, then kicked it. Al-Qaida put those videotapes on the web, where they briefly remained.

A soldier blurted out details of the deaths of Abeer, her parents and sister. U.S. Government action was suddenly swift. Four of the soldiers who had taken part were tried and [pled or were] found guilty by military tribunals. Within days of the capture of the first four soldiers in Iraq, the Army Criminal Investigation Division [CID] in Iraq contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] which developed its own complaint and arrested Green. The Iraqi Government arrested and beheaded the man who it sad had led the Al Qaeda group in torturing and killing the two 101st Airborne soldiers. Only after three years of legal maneuvering however was Green brought to trial.

Attracting world attention since 2006, United States v Steven D. Green is thus a starkly unique case which reflects widespread problems. It calls into question the recruitment standards of an overstretched U.S. Army, spotlights the ethnic hate-crime role of rape and reveals a profound failure of U.S. command responsibility. Countries from Europe to the Middle East moreover are insisting that the U.S. live up to the standards that it has long imposed on other nations when it comes to punishing its war criminals, high and low.

The attorneys are summing up the case Wednesday and will release the jury to deliberations later the same day.

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