Accused said troops plotted rape, murders

Soldiers played cards, drank before going to Iraqi girl's house, investigator testifies


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. soldiers played cards and drank whiskey at a checkpoint as they devised a plan to rape and kill a 14-year- old Iraqi girl and kill her family, one of the accused told investigators. After the alleged attack, one of the soldiers grilled chicken wings, according to the testimony at a military hearing yesterday.

The second day of the hearing in Baghdad brought other disturbing testimony from agents investigating the March 12 deaths in Mahmoudiya.

Spc. James P. Barker, 23, told investigators in sworn statements that he and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 23, took turns sexually assaulting the 14-year-old and that former Pvt. Steven D. Green also raped the girl after killing her mother, father and 5-year-old sister, military investigator Benjamin Bierce testified.

A fourth soldier, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 21, was present inside the house while another, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, was keeping watch elsewhere, according to Barker's statement to investigators.

The military tribunal, known as an Article 32 hearing, is similar to a civilian grand jury. Testimony in the first two days focused on the prosecution's case. After hearing from prosecutors and defense attorneys, an investigating officer will determine whether there is enough evidence to bring Barker, Cortez, Spielman and Howard before a court-martial on rape and murder charges.

Another soldier from the same unit, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a participant.

Green was discharged from the Army in May for a "personality disorder," according to court documents, but was arrested in North Carolina in June on rape and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty in federal court and is being held without bond.

According to Bierce, Barker wrote in his sworn testimony that he, Cortez, Spielman and Green had been playing rummy and drinking Iraqi moonshine mixed with an energy drink on the day of the attack.

"While they were playing cards and drinking Iraqi whiskey, the idea came to go to the Iraqi house, rape a woman and murder her family," said another military special agent, Gary Griesmyer, who had interviewed Cortez.

Cortez said in his sworn statement that Barker and Green raped the girl, according to Griesmyer.

According to Barker's statements, the men had practiced hitting golf balls near the checkpoint after finishing their card game. Green persistently said he wanted to go and kill some Iraqis and asked Barker whether he thought Cortez would go along with it. He also directly asked Cortez, who, in turn, asked Barker what he thought. Barker, in his testimony, wrote that his answer was "it's up to you," Bierce testified.

According to the testimony, the men then changed into black thermal underwear and black ski masks. Cortez gave the radio to Howard, who was supposed to be on the lookout. Arriving at the house, Cortez pushed the girl to the floor and raped her as she struggled, Bierce testified.

Barker told the agents that Green came back into the living room, where the girl was pinned to the floor. Referring to her family, Green told his fellow soldiers: "They're all dead. I just killed them."

Green then put down his AK-47 and raped the girl while Cortez held her down, Bierce testified. Afterward, Green shot the girl several times before Barker took a lamp and poured kerosene on her body, the investigator said.

Barker also told investigators that Green then went into the kitchen and came back saying, "We need to get out of here," supposedly because Green had opened the propane tank and the house was going to blow up.

After the men got back to the checkpoint, Barker wrote that he began to grill chicken wings.

Pfc. Justin Watt, whose testimony prompted the investigation, told the tribunal earlier yesterday how he became suspicious of his friends and, through conversations with Yribe and Howard, began piecing together what had happened in the house.

Watt reported his suspicions to a combat stress team in Mahmoudiya. His superiors "were extremely skeptical" about the allegations at first, he said.

Watt also testified that before the massacre he had heard Green say, "I want to kill and hurt a lot of Iraqis." When asked by defense attorneys, Watt reiterated: "I believe that he wanted to hurt Iraqis."

The hearing was scheduled to continue today.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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