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Category: Violence against Women

Second Court Martial in the Rape and Murder of Abeer Qassim Rashid Al-Janabi Begins

| February 21, 2007

The first day of the court martial of Sgt. Paul Cortez began in the small courthouse near the Burger King on Ft. Campbell, at the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. Only a few onlookers, mostly reporters and military escorts, were on hand to watch as the military judge quizzed the tall, thin Cortez about the multiple charges to which he pled guilty.

Cortez told military judge Stephen Henley that he understood that he was pleading guilty to conspiracy to rape; conspiracy to obstruct justice; rape; four counts of felony murder in the killings of 14 year-old Abeer Al Janabi, her parents and her 5-year old sister; arson; house-breaking with the intent to commit rape; obstruction of justice in the destruction of evidence by burning Abeer's body, destroying their clothes, and disposing of the AK-47 used to kill the family.

In dispute is whether Cortez acted with premeditation to murder the two children and their parents. Pfc. James Barker, another participant in the Mahmoudiya rape and killings, has previously pled guilty and testified that he, Cortez, Stephen Green, and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman conspired to commit rape and murder with premeditation. In exchange for his testimony, Barker received a reduced sentence of 90 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

Cortez's defense attorney, William Cassara, is expected to argue that war-related stress was the main factor that lead Cortez to commit these crimes and that resulted in the murders. Charles Figley, an expert on war-related stress and trauma, was present in the courtroom and is expected to testify for the defense.

After the judge rules on whether Cortez committed four counts of premeditated murder, he will hear testimony related to the sentencing of the accused.

In nearby Nashville, Tennessee, the courts martial have received little attention. Local women's groups and peace activists have been largely unaware that the trials are taking place.

Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People (2000), is a Women’s Media Center board member.