“I’m Down With That”
February 26, 2007
“I’m down with that.”
According to prosecutors, this was Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman’s response when hearing of a plan to rape 14 year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Spielman is undergoing court martial on various charges involving her rape and murder and the murder of her mother Fikhriya, father Qassim, and little sister Hadeel.
Friday’s motions hearings for Spielman, who sat at rigid attention, were held in the same Ft. Campbell courtroom as the court martial for Sgt. Paul E. Cortez. The session concluded a week of disturbing testimony in the case of six U.S. soldiers charged in the March 12, 2006 atrocity against Abeer and her family members while deployed in Iraq.
In contrast to the emotional testimony of Cortez, his family members and several 101st Airborne Division soldiers who were called as defense witnesses in the Cortez court martial, Spielman’s hearings consisted of legal maneuverings relating to potential defense witnesses and the mental health records of Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul Cortez and former Pfc. Steven D. Green. Col. Stephen R. Henley, the Army’s chief trial judge from D.C., ordered the government to produce more than a dozen of the witnesses requested by the defense, as well as the mental health records of the soldiers in question.
Spielman was surrounded by a defense team that includes three civilian attorneys—one a retired colonel and former military judge—and a military defense attorney. He showed no outward emotion and did not speak during the hearings.
Facing a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Spielman is charged with, among other things, conspiracy, rape, murder, and obstruction of justice. He has not yet entered a plea and has elected to a trial by forum—the Army’s version of a jury, which will be comprised of either officers or officers and enlisted personnel. In contrast, the Barker and Cortez courts martial were decided by a judge. The choice signals that Spielman’s defense team is likely to argue that, as the lowest ranking, their client’s involvement in the rape and murders is significantly less than that of the other soldiers.
Spielman is currently being held in the Christian County Jail, along with Spc. Barker, who was transported from the maximum security prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, to testify in the Cortez proceedings, and Sgt. Cortez who was being held there for his trial. All three soldiers are likely to remain in Christian County until the trials in this case have been completed.
Spielman’s court martial is scheduled to begin on April 2. Motions hearings for Pfc. Bryan Howard, the last soldier to be tried in this case, are set for March 23rd. Former Pfc. Steven Green will be tried in federal court in Louisville, Kentucky in the fall.
This update continues the Women’s Media Center series and organizing campaign focusing on crimes against Abeer Qassim Hamza Al-Janabi and their implications for the military and U.S. foreign policy.