U.S. Military Prosecutors Struggle With Testimony in Iraq Rape-Slaying Case

U.S. military prosecutors scrambled Thursday to overcome a soldier's recanting of his story that a comrade accused of conspiring to rape and kill an Iraqi girl and her family took part in the attack south of Baghdad.

Spc. James Barker, who has admitted his own role in the assault, testified Wednesday that he had allowed investigators to draft sworn statements for him that implicated Pfc. Jesse Spielman in the crime.

Prosecutors resumed Spielman's court-martial Thursday with little evidence from the assault beyond soldiers' statements and crime scene photographs.

Spielman, 22, is charged with rape and murder in the March 12, 2006, assault of a family in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

As part of his plea deal last year, Barker signed a document saying, among other things, that Spielman was part of the conspiracy to attack the family and that he knew of plans to rape the 14-year-old girl. Barker's signature on the document saved him from a possible death sentence.

Barker testified Wednesday that several portions of the document were untrue, including references to Spielman's role in the conspiracy to attack the family and his knowledge of plans to rape the girl.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez testified earlier in the day that Spielman stood guard as his fellow soldiers raped the girl. Cortez said Spielman was within a few feet of the others as they held down the screaming girl but did nothing to stop them.

Barker and Cortez were convicted of rape and murder and have given investigators conflicting statements about whether Spielman knew of the plan to rape the girl and was present when they discussed it over swigs from bottles of whiskey and gin mixed with energy drinks, according to testimony.

Prosecutors do not say Spielman took part in the rape or murders, but allege he went to the house knowing what the others intended to do and served as a lookout.

Spielman pleaded guilty Monday to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking.

Three soldiers have pleaded guilty for their roles in the slayings and received sentences of five to 100 years.

Steven D. Green, who was discharged from the Army before being charged, faces a possible death sentence when he is tried in federal court in Kentucky. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that include murder and sexual assault.

During their courts-martial, Barker and Cortez testified they took turns raping the girl while Green shot and killed her mother, father and younger sister. Green shot the girl in the head after raping her, they said. The girl's body was set on fire with kerosene to destroy the evidence, according to previous testimony.