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Scene of Slain Iraqi Family Described

A military tribunal hears testimony in the rape and murder case against U.S. soldiers.

August 07, 2006|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi army medic testifying in a hearing to determine whether four U.S. soldiers will face a court-martial on rape and murder charges said Sunday that he saw a family of four who had been slain in their home, including a 14-year-old girl whose head and upper body had been burned and clothes torn away.

The medic, who was not identified for security reasons, testified on the first day of hearings by a U.S. military tribunal in a case that has outraged Iraqis. It is one of several instances of alleged abuses by U.S. troops that are under investigation.

Entering the family's house in the southern Baghdad suburb of Mahmoudiya on March 12, the medic said, he found the girl with a single bullet wound under her left eye and with her legs spread.

In an adjacent room, the medic said, he found the girl's 5-year-old sister, who had been shot, the bullet smashing the back of her head.

Next to the younger girl was the body of her father, Kasim Hamza Rasheed, who also had been shot in the head.

"The brain was on the floor, and parts of the head were all over the place," the medic said of Rasheed's body.

The mother, Fakhriya Taha Muhsen, had been shot repeatedly in the abdomen and chest, the medic said.

"I was sick for almost two weeks," he added.

Defense lawyers questioned whether the medic had the expertise to determine the cause of death. They suggested that the family members were already dead when they were shot, and that someone had arranged the bodies before they were found.

Defense lawyers also focused on whether the accused troops were suffering from combat stress after a barrage of attacks in the area, known as the "triangle of death."

Army Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, commander of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, testified that three of the accused soldiers had sought help for combat stress. He estimated that a quarter of the soldiers' platoon suffered from the condition.

In February, a month before the family was slain, company commander Capt. John Goodwin, who was the officer in charge of the accused soldiers, had developed a "1,000-yard stare," Kunk said. Goodwin was sent to the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad for a break.

The U.S. military tribunal is similar to a civilian grand jury, and American officers will determine whether there is enough evidence to convene a court-martial for the soldiers.

Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman are charged with rape, murder and arson.

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

A sixth suspect, former Pfc. Steven D. Green, was discharged from the Army in May because of a "personality disorder," according to military officials and court documents. He was arrested in North Carolina in late June and will be tried separately in federal court. Green has pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges and is being held without bond.

The medic's testimony Sunday largely corroborated what Abu Firas Janabi, a family member, has said he saw in the house.

Last month, Janabi told The Times that the Rasheed family was at his house three days before the killings. He said Muhsen, who was his cousin, complained that American soldiers at a nearby guard post constantly searched their house. Janabi said the parents thought their 14-year-old daughter "was the target."

Kunk testified that he was informed about the slayings on June 19 by Goodwin, who called seeking guidance.

The lieutenant colonel said he questioned Barker, who he described as "very flippant, very confident, and more than willing to answer the questions I had."

"He said, 'No sir, no coalition soldier was responsible for the

Kunk testified that he then met with Howard, who said he didn't know who was responsible for the killings.

Kunk said he recalled Green telling him, "All Iraqis are bad people."

"I told him that that wasn't true and that 90% to 95% of the Iraqi people are good people and they want the same thing that we have in the United States," Kunk said.

He estimated that about 800 roadside bombs were found or detonated throughout the battalion's area during an 11-month period.

He said Cortez, Spielman and Green were "wallowing in self-pity" after the killing of several fellow soldiers, and had sought help for combat stress.

"We are known as the southern belt of the insurgency," Kunk said.

Defense lawyer Capt. Jimmy Culp highlighted an attack in which an Iraqi walked up to a checkpoint with an outstretched hand, then pulled a gun and shot and killed two Americans.

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