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Monday, July 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Four more U.S. soldiers charged with rape, murder in Iraq attack

Chicago Tribune

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The U.S. military has filed charges against four American soldiers who, together with a former private in custody in the United States, are accused of the rape and killing of an Iraqi girl and the murders of her parents and younger sister, American military officials said Sunday.

Another U.S. soldier was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report the alleged crimes.

Former Pfc. Steven Green, 21, and the four soldiers charged this weekend with rape and murder allegedly broke into a house near Mahmoudiya, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, with the intent of raping Abeer Qassim Hamza, according to an FBI affidavit filed to help secure an arrest warrant against Green. Neighbors and relatives have said Hamza was 15, but a military affidavit estimated the rape victim was about 25.

Green allegedly took Hamza's parents and younger sister into a bedroom and shot them, the affidavit stated. He and another soldier then allegedly raped Hamza. Afterward, Green shot her two or three times in the head, according to the affidavit.

A statement released by the U.S. military Sunday said the four soldiers conspired with Green to commit the rape and slayings, but it did not specify what each soldier did. None of the soldiers was named. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. military official as saying the soldiers charged are two sergeants, two privates first class and one specialist.

A fifth soldier was charged Saturday with failing to report the attack but is not believed to have participated in it directly, the statement said. The four facing murder charges could face the death penalty if convicted.

"The preferral of court-martial charges is merely an accusation," the statement said. "Those accused are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Last week, Green pleaded not guilty to rape and murder charges in Louisville, Ky. He was out of the Army when the killings came to light, honorably discharged because of a personality disorder.

Unlike most incidents of alleged abuse of Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers, the killings of the young Iraqi and her family did not occur in the heat of battle but were planned for as long as a week, military officials have alleged.

The case infuriated Iraqis, and is the latest in a series of cases in which U.S. soldiers have been accused of abusing and killing Iraqi civilians. The highest-profile case involves allegations that U.S. Marines shot to death 24 Iraqi civilians Nov. 19 in the western town of Haditha. They allegedly barged into homes on a shooting rampage after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine.

The charges against the five soldiers in the Mahmoudiya case were handed down Saturday, just three days after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that his country be allowed to investigate the case, either independently or with the United States. Al-Maliki also called into question the immunity that shields U.S. troops from prosecution by Iraqi courts.

According to the FBI affidavit and witnesses from the area, Green and the other soldiers had been to the Hamza house before the March 12 incident. On the day of the killings, they drank alcohol and changed their clothes before leaving the traffic checkpoint they were manning and heading to the house.

After the killings, the soldiers allegedly burned their clothes and disposed of an AK-47 assault rifle in a nearby canal, according to the affidavit. Villagers said Hamza's body had been burned.

One aspect of the case that military investigators are looking into is why Green and the other soldiers would have been allowed to leave their base and go to the traffic checkpoint in a single Humvee. U.S. soldiers are virtually never allowed to travel outside of their bases in just one Humvee because of the security risk.

The soldiers charged Saturday now face an Article 32 investigation, a procedure similar to a grand-jury hearing.

Information from the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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