EVANSVILLE, Indiana – Eight soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st division will be court-martialed for murdering Iraqi civilians, including two who face the death penalty for allegedly raping an Iraqi girl and killing her and her family, the military ordered Wednesday.
Military authorities said they would seek the death penalty against Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman in connection with the March rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi in her family's home in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The four others face a separate court martial for the alleged murder of three men near Samarra, 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital.
The rape-slaying case sparked international outrage and led to a claim by an Al Qaeda-linked group that it had killed three other 101st soldiers in retaliation. It also threatened to strain relations between the United States and Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceived soldiers receive lenient treatment.
The case also increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
Spielman's attorneys expressed shock that their client faces a death penalty, citing evidence discussed during a hearing in August that indicated he was not in the house when the rape and murders occurred.
"Even according to the government's evidence that they're putting forth, Jesse isn't even a principal in murder and rape," said Craig Carlson, Spielman's attorney. "It surprises me that they're treating him like they're treating Green."
Former Pvt. Steven Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and arrested in North Carolina, will be tried in federal court in Kentucky. In affidavits, Green was described as a central figure to the rape and murders.
Green has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.
Military prosecutors have said the five — all from the division's 502nd Infantry Regiment — planned the attack from a checkpoint near the family's home, changed their clothing to hide their identities and set the girl's body on fire to destroy evidence.
Mahmoudiya is part of the so-called "triangle of death" a region known for numerous attacks by insurgents, and the soldiers' unit suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades.
Defense attorneys have argued that soldiers of every rank were emotionally ragged and strained.
In the other case, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard and Spc. Juston R. Graber are accused of murdering three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.