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Soldier sentenced to 100 years for Iraq rape and murder
Guardian Unlimited (UK)
Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Michael Howard in Baghdad
February 23, 2007

A US soldier was sentenced to 100 years in prison yesterday for one of the worst known cases involving US troops in Iraq - the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl and the killing of her father, mother and sister.

The horrific slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and her family happened in Mahmoudiya, around 20 miles south of Baghdad, on March 12 last year.

In spite of the apparently long prison sentence, Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, can expect to be released on parole in about ten years under a plea bargain deal. He pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the cases of others alleged to have been involved.

He was given a dishonourable discharge from the army.

Cortez, who broke down in tears earlier this week as he described his role in the rape and murders, is the second soldier to plead guilty. He told the military court at Fort Campbell of the day he had gone with others to the girl's home and raped her.

The killing was originally reported to be the work of insurgents, but the role of the soldiers emerged in June.

In November, one of the soldiers, specialist James Barker, 24, was sentenced to 90 years in a military prison.

Another, specialist Steven Green, 21, who had been discharged from service with a "personality disorder" before his superiors knew about the crime, is accused of being the ringleader and will face a civilian court because he is no longer in the army.

Two others, private Jesse Spielman, 22, and Bryan Howard, 19, face courts martial in relation to the incident, though neither is accused of participating in the rape.

All five were members of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Cortez, who is from Barstow, California, pleaded not guilty to separate charges of premeditated murder. He was found not guilty on these charges on Wednesday after prosecutors failed to convince a judge that he knew of what they said was Green's intent to murder the whole family.

Cortez told the court about how the crime was thought up: "While we were playing cards Barker and Green started talking about having sex with an Iraqi female. Barker and Green had already known ... " he said, before breaking down in tears.

He continued after a minute: "Barker and Green had already known what house they wanted to go to ... knew only one male was in the house, and knew it would be an easy target."

At the home, Cortez said he and others took Janabi's father, mother and younger sister into a bedroom and kept her in the living room.

He then described Barker held her down while he undressed her and proceeded to rape her. 'After I was done, myself and Barker switched spots, he said.

He claimed that Green shot and killed the girl's parents and younger sister. "During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard five or six gunshots that came from the bedroom. After Barker was done, Green came out of the bedroom and said that he had killed them all, that all of them were dead."

Cortez said he acted as a lookout while Green then raped the girl.

He claimed Green then shot Janabi several times in the head, and the soldiers poured petrol over her body and set it alight to try to hide the evidence of their crime. Cortez burned his own clothes and Spielman allegedly threw the AK-47 used to kill the family in a canal. Specialist Christopher Till, testified that Cortez told him about the killings in June. "He seemed very remorseful," Till said.

In another development, Iraq's security forces were yesterday facing fresh allegations of brutal sexual assault after four soldiers were accused of raping a 50-year-old Sunni Turkomen woman and attempting to rape her two daughters in the north-western city of Tal Afar earlier this month.

It is the second allegation of sexual assault against Iraqi forces to surface this week. On Monday, a 20-year-old Sunni woman alleged that she was raped by three policemen after being detained during a search of her house in Baghdad.

Original Text