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Category: International, Violence against Women

Update—Spielman Convicted and Sentenced for the Murder and Rape of Abeer

| August 6, 2007

A third soldier, Private Jesse Spielman, 23, was sentenced Saturday night to 110 years in prison after being convicted Friday of the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Rasheed Al-Janabi. However, like Sergeant Paul Cortez and Specialist James Barker, who were also convicted in the case, Spielman will, says the Associated Press, be eligible for parole after only 10 years in prison.

According to testimony at his court-martial, which began a week ago at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Spielman went with Cortez, Barker and Private Steven Green on March 12, 2006, to the home of the Al-Janabi family in a village south of Baghdad. He watched while they raped Abeer and murdered her and her family.

After forcing Abeer’s youngest sister, her father and her mother into a separate room, Green allegedly shot them while Cortez and Barker took turns raping Abeer in the living room. Then Green, who has yet to be tried, allegedly returned to the living room, raped Abeer and then shot her three times. Green, discharged from the military before the charges were brought, will be tried in federal court in the coming months. (For more on the circumstances of Green’s discharge and complete coverage of these cases, see the WMC Iraq Campaign: Action for Abeer.)

On the first day of his court-martial, Spielman admitted to wrongfully touching Abeer’s dead body—touching her nipple, which, he said, he knew was wrong—thus fulfilling the requirement of his guilty plea to this criminal act. Unlike Cortez and Barker, who made agreements with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to all charges, Spielman contested the more serious counts against him, including conspiracy to commit murder and rape.

It came out during testimony by Cortez and Barker that the soldiers were playing cards and drinking earlier that day while discussing killing Iraqis and “fucking.” Apparently, this was a regular topic at the traffic control point where the men were stationed in the village of Mahmoudiya. Out of this discussion came the plan to go to the Al-Janabi home and rape Abeer. Cortez shed tears while testifying about the rape. Questioned about his attitude toward Iraqis, he admitted that he “hated them.” When asked if his hatred was directed at Iraqi women, he responded “for the most part, yes.” By this time, Cortez’s tone of voice revealed his growing anger and when asked what was going through his mind while he was raping Abeer, he said through his tears, “we wanted to show somebody . . . to feel the pain we were going through.”

Barker, by contrast, had a casual demeanor and constantly sighed, as though bored, while giving his testimony of the events of that day. When asked what he thought when he heard the shots coming from the other room he said “that it was loud.” When asked about what took place that day, Barker said “I knew it was going to happen. . . . We discussed it previously.”

Prosecutors said Spielman also knew of the plan, but Barker recanted earlier testimony implicating Spielman in the conspiracy. According to Cortez’s testimony, however, Spielman joined the conversation planning the attack and said, “I’m down with that.” Two other soldiers, Private Bryan Howard and Sergeant Anthony Yribe, also testified about what happened that day. Howard said that Spielman had blood on his clothes when the four returned to the traffic control point. In part of an earlier statement by Howard, read aloud at the trial, he said he overheard the soldiers upon their return making such remarks as “that was awesome” and “we killed a family.” One of them, he said, was jumping on the bed.

During Yribe’s testimony, there were graphic photos displayed of the murdered members of the Al-Janabi family. Referring to the photo of Abeer’s burned body, the prosecuting attorney asked, “How did you even recognize that this was a girl?” Yribe responded “ . . . the dress.”

Because Cortez and Barker both pleaded guilty to the charges against them, Spielman’s was the first court-martial in this case to take place before a panel of military personnel, the equivalent of a jury. The panel is made up of 11 members, two of whom are women.

During the course of this court-martial, hatred of Iraqis was a common theme. Witnesses who were asked admitted unabashedly that they hated Iraqis. They did not distinguish insurgents from civilians when referring to their hatred of Iraqis, whom they call the ‘haj’—something akin to the term ‘gooks,’ the slur of choice during the Vietnam War. Those who testified about Green said that he would talk about killing Iraqis all the time. When Barker was asked if Green’s hatred of Iraqis was any different from the rest of them, he said “maybe not different, just expressed more often.”