Why We Must Still Remember
| March 13, 2009
Beginning in 2006, the Women’s Media Center began a series of articles to alert the public about violence against women involving U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Helen Zia, a WMC board member, explains why we must continue to demand justice.
On March 12, 2006, a 14-year-old girl in Mahmoudiya, Iraq, was raped and murdered by a group of American soldiers. She had been stalked by the GIs, who, over pizza and beer, discussed invading her home and raping her. They went to her home in broad daylight, and as they took turns holding her down and raping her. The accusation: Pfc. Stephen Green shot her parents and 5-year-old sister to death in the next room with his U.S.-issued AK-47. Green then took his turn raping the 14-year-old and when he and his buddies were "done," Green murdered her with his AK-47 as well. The "band of brothers" then attempted to cover up their crime by burning the bodies. Two other soldiers in their unit who aided or knew of the crime covered it up as well—and this might have become another war crime swept under the rug except for the courageous act of another soldier in the same 101st Airborne unit who suspected the crime and reported it.
When the news media first heard of the crime, military spokesmen and U.S. reporters speculated that the rape victim was not a girl, but an adult woman, "perhaps even in her 50s"—as though that would matter. But then the facts came out as the girl's identification papers were revealed.
Her name was Abeer.
As the facts about these crimes emerged, to correct the misleading news reports, the WMC started our Iraq campaign and asked the question: Who Weeps for Abeer? We published several reports on the impact of the U.S. invasion and war on women and girls. [See below for links to those reports and commentaries]
In the three years since the horrific acts against Abeer and her family, the U.S. military has held trials against four of the men who raped Abeer or abetted the crime. These soldiers were court-martialed and received sentences ranging from 90-110 years—but may be freed on parole after as few as 10 years.
Stephen Green, however, was no longer in uniform when the crime was revealed—he had been honorably discharged from service early because he was reportedly deemed "unfit for service." He has since been charged by federal prosecutors with murder and sexual assault; his trial is set for April 27 in Paducah, Kentucky, with jury selection to begin on April 6.
When the WMC began our Iraq Campaign, we noted that Congress passed the War Crimes Act of 1996 so that the United States could, under the Geneva Convention, prosecute North Vietnamese who tortured U.S. soldiers during the war in Vietnam. In 1998, the United Nations also recognized rape as a war crime and violation of human rights. Under the War Crimes Act, it is a federal crime for any U.S. national, whether military or civilian, to violate the Geneva Convention by engaging in murder, torture, or inhuman treatment.
Significantly, the statute applies not only to those who carry out the acts, but also to those who order it, know about it, or fail to take steps to stop it. Yet no officers or military brass have been questioned for their gross failure to stop the crimes in Abeer’s home—let alone for any military policies that contributed to these abuses.
As the Obama Administration begins its review of torture and other policies of the Bush years, the WMC reminds all about a girl named Abeer, the human consequences of this war on families, women and children. The public and the media should not allow war crimes or war criminals to be swept from public view. Three years after the rape and murders of Abeer and her family, the WMC again points to Action for Abeer and the continuing call for justice for the many victims of war.