BAGHDAD (AFP) -Military prosecutors will begin Sunday to lay out their case against four US soldiers they want to charge in relation to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of her family.
The “Article 32 hearing”, at which officers will decide whether there is enough evidence to bring the troops to court martial, will hear allegations that four soldiers conspired with a fifth to carry out the rape and killings.
The case is the latest in a series of high-profile scandals which has tarnished the reputation of the 130,000 US troops posted in Iraq, where they are battling a violent insurgency in support of Iraqi government forces.
The private who is accused of carrying out the rape, Steven Green, has been discharged from the army because of a “personality disorder” and will be charged separately in the United States at a civilian federal court.
But four of his former colleagues — Sergeant Paul Cortez, Specialist James Barker, Private Jesse Spielman and Private Bryan Howard — could face a court martial and the death penalty if found guilty of taking part in the attack.
Prosecutors at Camp Victory, a US military base next to the Baghdad airport, will allege that Green shot dead the girl’s father, mother and five-year-old sister then raped the 14-year-old, killed her and set her house on fire to cover his tracks.
An affidavit prepared ahead of the case accuses his comrades of helping him plan, carry out and cover up the slaying, throwing the non-issue AK-47 rifle used in the shooting in a canal and burning their bloodstained disguises.
Military prosecutors now believe two of Green’s comrades had raped the girl before he did, The New York Times reported Saturday, citing a legal memo.
The suspects were serving with 21-year-old Green as part of the 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division in the Iraqi town of CMahmudiyah on March 12 this year, when the attack is alleged to have taken place.
Green has pleaded not guilty in his civilian case.
The Article 32 hearing is expected to last four days, with defense and prosecution testimony, after which a panel of officers will decide whether to recommend to the commander of the 101st that the men face a court martial.
Last week, a former reporter with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes wrote in the Washington Post that Green had told him in an interview before the alleged murders that “killing people is like squashing an ant.”
“I came over here because I wanted to kill people,” Andrew Tilghman quoted Green as saying. “The truth is, it wasn’t all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience.”
“And then I did it, and I was like, ‘All right, whatever’,” Green was quoted as saying.
“I mean, you kill somebody and it’s like, ‘All right, let’s go get some pizza’.”
The case is one of a series of alleged atrocities which has undermined the reputation of US forces.
US Marines are said to have gone on the rampage in the Euphrates valley town of Haditha in November last year, after a bomb killed a comrade. They are accused of killing 24 civilians, including 10 women and children.
Two US soldiers have also been also charged with voluntary manslaughter over the killing of an unarmed Iraqi civilian outside his home four months ago.
Last month, seven marines and a sailor were charged with premeditated murder, kidnapping and other offences over the killing of a reportedly handicapped Iraqi in the town of Hamdania near Baghdad in April.
This week a separate set of allegations emerged from the investigation into the Hamdania case, and six marines were charged with beating and throttling Iraqi civilians and shoving a loaded gun down a detainee’s throat.
Also this week, four men from the 101st Airborne faced their own Article 32 hearing into allegations that they shot dead three Iraqi prisoners in cold blood after receiving an order to “kill all military-age males” during a raid.