(Clockwise from top left) Abeer's ID card, the crime scene,
ringleader Steven Green, and "Abeer" Sunni insurgent rocket
was a rather different place when Abeer Qassim Hamza came into the world 15 years ago this week. Iraq
It was a year and a half after the first Gulf War ended with a whimper with the withdrawal of nearly a half million troops from the
and 34 other nations after repulsing Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of U.S. . But Saddam remained firmly in power as Kuwait slid into an era of renewed saber rattling and decay and neglect as U.N. sanctions took hold and U.S. fighter jets patrolled no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. Iraq
But these concerns seemed far away in the farmhouse of Qassim Hamza Rashid al-Janabi outside the Sunni
south of villageof Mahmoudiyah . It was there that he and wife Fakhriya proudly bestowed on their firstborn the name Abeer, which means "fragrance of flowers." Baghdad
Only one photograph is known to exist of Abeer, a blurry black-and-white image of an adorable little girl on an Iraqi national ID card taken when she was about three years old.
As distant as the first Gulf War may have seemed to Abeer's parents, the second war was a very different story.
* * * * *
In March 2006, three years after the invasion that toppled Saddam’s regime, a few thousand of the too few 116,000 U.S. troops then in country patrolled and fought in and around Mahmoudiya. The village was on the front line of a guerrilla war in which the Americans never seemed to gain ground and Mahmoudiya was now commonly referred to as one of the three points in the so-called Triangle of Death.
The 1st Battalion of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division was bedeviled by the shadowy insurgents. They seldom engaged in face-to-face combat, but there was gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks almost daily and soldiers were dying at the rate of at least one a week. Bravo Company had lost eight men alone and would lose several more in the coming months as a direct result of the heinous actions of one of their own.
The battalion had established a series of checkpoints, including one manned by Bravo Company about 200 yards from Abeer's house, in an effort to monitor and control insurgent traffic. Now 13½ years old, Abeer had to pass through the checkpoint going to and from school.* * * * *When four American soldiers, two dressed in Iraqi mufti and not uniforms, appeared at the Al-Janabi farmhouse on the afternoon of
March 12, 2006, they were not entirely unexpected. Abeer had told her mother that some of the Americans at the checkpoint were being sexually aggressive toward her and her mother, fearing for her safety, had been making her stay home.
Among the soldiers entering the house was Private First Class Steven Green, a 21-year-old boy-man and petulant loner with a history of drug and alcohol problems and a petty criminal record back in
, the titular home of the Bush family in Midland oil patch country. Texas
Green had been in
for only a few weeks when he was found to have "homicidal ideations" when he was sent to an Army Combat Stress team on Iraq December 21, 2005. Nevertheless, he was sent back into combat.
In February 2006, Green matter-of-factly told a reporter for Stars & Stripes that he had come to Iraq "because I wanted to kill people" and bragged that he had "shot a guy who wouldn't stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing. Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza'."
Green was being medicated with small doses of Seroquel, a mood-altering drug, to control his demons, and still was sent back into combat. Bravo Company's commander, Captain James Goodwin, later said that conditions were so bad and his men so numbed from months of combat that he "almost had a nervous breakdown" and had to spend a few days chilling in the Green Zone in Baghdad before resuming command of the beleaguered unit.By March 2006, the men of Bravo Company seemed to be near the breaking point. There was bitter complaining that they were being forced to spend up to 30 days straight working and sleeping at undermanned checkpoints instead of three- to five-day rotations back to Camp Striker, their barracks in an abandoned potato processing plant that had burned the previous month, adding to the unit's reputation as a "hard-luck" outfit.
* * * * *
With two of Bravo Company's respected and experienced senior NCOs away on leave, Green set about planning mischief.
According to an affidavit prepared by FBI Special Agent Frank Charles and other accounts, on the evening of March 11, Green talked up the idea of going to Abeer's house and raping her. Then, on the following morning, he and several buddies played cards and got drunk on black market Iraqi whiskey, a violation of war-zone policy.
After hitting some golf balls behind the checkpoint, an intoxicated Green again brought up the idea of raping Abeer, changed into Iraqi civilian clothing and made arrangements for a buddy to monitor the radio at the checkpoint so he and his confederates could go "kill and hurt a lot of Iraqis."
Once at Abeer's house Green herded her father, mother and Hadil, her 7-year-old sister, into a bedroom. Abeer’s brothers, Ahmad and Muhammad, were at school.
Green shot the father several times in the head, the mother several times in the abdomen and the sister several times in the head and shoulder with an AK-47 that the family was legally allowed to keep in the house, proudly announcing to his buddies, "I just killed them, all are dead."Green then turned on Abeer, whom
officials initially claimed was 20 or 25. As if that justified what happened next. U.S.
Abeer's dressing gown and bra were torn from her body and her legs tied. Green and two other soldiers then took turns raping her. By the time they had finished, blood was flowing from her vagina. Green then shot Abeer in the head two or three times, threw a blanket over her torso and set her body afire in a crude effort to cover up the atrocity.
Back at the checkpoint, Green burned his blood-drenched clothing and swore everyone to secrecy.* * * * *
told the Iraqi soldiers and neighbors that the family had been killed by Shiites because they were Sunnis. The claim was widely disbelieved, prompting deep anger and inevitable retaliatory attacks. Neighbors reported the crimes to a nearby Iraqi Army unit. while members of Bravo Company
On June 16, 2006, insurgents ambushed a Bravo Company patrol, killing Specialist David J. Babineau, 25, and kidnapping Privates First Class Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Thomas L. Tucker, 25, who were tortured and beheaded and their mutilated and booby trapped bodies left near Yossifiyah, the second point of the Triangle of Death.
The bodies are seen on a bridge over a river in the videotape. Both are drenched in blood. The head of one trooper is held high by an armed man, like a trophy, while the head of the other is being stamped on by another armed man. One man appears to also have been shot and the other possibly hit with an explosive.
(There was further retaliation: In October 2006, the Islamic Army in Iraq released a video of the manufacture and launch of an "Abeer" rocket, while in May of this year -- three months ago yesterday to be exact -- insurgents overran an outpost southwest of Mahmoudiyah and abducted three soldiers, one who was later found slain and two of whom remain missing and are presumed dead.)
How ironic that these three men were butchered by fanatical adherents of a religion that treats women as mere chattel and stones and even rapes them if they disobey religious law and bring dishonor on their husbands or families. But I digress.
The cover-up of the crimes by Green and the other Bravo Company enlisted men was finally blown open on June 20, 2006, when Private First Class Justin Watt, shaken by the deaths of Babineau, Menchaca and Tucker, revealed the Al-Janabi family rape-murders during what the Army calls a "combat stress debriefing," or in medical parlance, a psychotherapy session.* * * * *Steven Green will spend Abeer’s 15th birthday in a federal lockup in
trial for the rape-murders. He has pleaded not guilty. Kentucky as he awaits
Green’s behavior had become so problematic by May 2006 that the Army sent him home on the grounds that he had an "anti-social personality disorder," but nevertheless gave him a regular discharge.
Green was technically separated, but not retired, from the Army when rape and murder charges were filed against him , but that still put him beyond the reach of a military court unless higher ups intervened, which they did not. Iraqi authorities demanded to no effect that he be returned to
and tried, but the Iraq has been historically protective of servicemen stationed overseas and with few exceptions (none in U.S. ), they have been protected against prosecution in local courts. Iraq
Three of Green's buddies already have been tried after courts martial: Private Jesse Spielman, 23, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison on August 4; Sergeant Paul E. Cortez, 24, who got 90 years, and Specialist James P. Barker, who got 100 years.
Unlike Cortez and Barker, who each pleaded guilty to rape and murder charges in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and the probability of being paroled after 10 years, Spielman sought acquittal because he said he did not participate in the rape or murders, although he stood guard while Abeer was being raped.
As part of their plea arrangements, Cortez and Barker will be transported from the Army's main prison at
, to testify against Green, who probably will face the death penalty if he is convicted. Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas* * * * *A regrettable but inevitable byproduct of war is stressed out soldiers killing civilians whom they mistake for the enemy or overreacting in response to the deaths of fellow troopers, and that certainly has happened in other wars.
But Iraq is not just another war. It is an unnecessary and arguably an immoral war that was justified by a neoconservative coven that manipulated a notably inexperienced and uncurious commander in chief into invading
. a country and destabilizing an entire region
The war has had such a deleterious effect on the Army that it has repeatedly been forced to lower its recruiting standards and has granted an increasing number of waivers to recruits with criminal backgrounds like Steven Green.
By any measure, Green was unfit to wear an Army uniform, but he not only was fast-tracked through basic training and sent off to
, his readily obvious homicidal tendencies were merely acknowledged and dealt with by medication, "Atta boys" and pats on the back as he was repeatedly sent back into the hell hole that is Mahmoudiyah. Iraq
It wasn’t likely that Green would trigger something awful while he was in Iraq, it was inevitable, and the war was a perfect crucible: Not enough troops, vague and changing rules of engagement, negligible efforts to win over an occupied people, and an Army mental-health system that betrays its own soldiers just as their president has betrayed his country.The blood that coursed from between Abeer Qassim Hamza's legs after she was raped is on Steven Green’s hands. But it is on George Bush’s hands as well, and neither will ever be able to wash it off.
As it should be.