When U.S. military officials found the bodies of four Iraqis inside a burned house near Mahmoudiya in March, they at first blamed insurgents. Three of the bodies had gunshot wounds, and the body of a woman was burned. Authorities believe she was raped before being shot in the head.
But on Monday, federal prosecutors revealed the outcome of a joint military and FBI investigation: the culprits, they now believe, are U.S. soldiers who manned a checkpoint a short distance from the home.
Officials have charged one of them, Steven D. Green, a skinny, 21-year-old former private who was honorably discharged this spring by the Army because of a “personality disorder.” He was accused Monday of rape and four counts of murder during an appearence in a federal courtroom in Charlotte.
Wearing baggy shorts, flip-flops and a Johnny Cash T-shirt, Green spoke only to confirm his identity and stared as a federal magistrate ordered him held without bond on murder and rape charges that carry a possible death penalty.
Green became the first person identified in the latest case of alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops.
According to a federal affidavit, Green and three other soldiers from the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division had talked about raping the young woman, whom they first saw while working at a traffic checkpoint near her home.
On the day of the attack, the document said, Green and other soldiers drank alcohol and changed out of their uniforms to avoid detection before going to the woman’s house, with Green using a brown T-shirt to cover his face.
Once there, the affidavit said, Green took three members of the family _ an adult male and female, and a girl estimated to be 5 years old _ into a bedroom. Shots were heard.
“Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, ‘I just killed them. All are dead,'” the affidavit said.
The affidavit is based on FBI and military investigators’ interviews with three unidentified soldiers assigned to Green’s platoon. Two of the soldiers said they witnessed another soldier and Green rape the woman.
“After the rape, (the soldier) witnessed Green shoot the woman in the head two to three times,” the affidavit said.
One of the three soldiers interviewed said he was left behind to mind the radio at the traffic checkpoint. That soldier said Green and three others returned from the woman’s house “with blood on their clothes, which they burned. Immediately after this, they each told (the soldier) that this is never to be discussed again.”
An official familiar with details of the investigation in Iraq told The Associated Press that a flammable liquid was used to burn the rape victim’s body in an attempted cover-up.
The affidavit noted that prosecutors have photos taken by Army investigators in Iraq of all four bodies found inside a burned house and a photo of a burned body of “what appears to be a woman with blankets thrown over her upper torso.”
The age of the young woman was unclear. FBI documents estimated her age at 25, but a neighbor of the family said the rape victim was 14 and her sister was 10.
The Washington Post reported the rape victim was 15 and that her mother worried her daughter had attracted the attention of U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint. The mother asked a neighbor if the girl could sleep at his house.
The neighbor agreed but the girl and her family were attacked the next day, according to the Post.
Green, who was arrested Friday in the town of Marion northwest of Charlotte, is being prosecuted in federal, rather than military court because he is no longer in the Army. According to the affidavit, his 11-month-stint ended “before this incident came to light.”
The soldiers accused in the rape and killings are from the same platoon as two soldiers whose mutilated bodies were found June 19, three days after they were abducted by insurgents near Youssifiyah, southwest of Baghdad. Military officials say they believe guilt over the mutilations may have spurred a confession by one of the soldiers during a combat-stress debriefing late last month.
No other soldier has been charged in the case, said Maj. Joseph Breasseale, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. However, military officials have said four Army soldiers have had their weapons taken away and were being confined to their base near Mahmoudiya.
The mayor of Mahmoudiya, Mouayad Fadhil, said Monday that Iraqi authorities had started their own investigation. He said U.S. Army officers were also seeking permission to exhume one of the bodies; the U.S. military declined to comment on the report because the investigation is ongoing.
According to the affidavit, Green was arrested while traveling back to Fort Campbell after attending a funeral for one of the mutilated soldiers in Arlington, Va.
Court officials said Green will have a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing on July 10 in Charlotte, and will then be brought to Louisville to stand trial.
He was quoted in December by the Fort Campbell Courier about a search for insurgents and expressed surprise at the ease of the mission.
“I was surprised by how many people weren’t home, but the ones who were there were submissive and let us look through their things,” he said.
Associated Press writers Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Mark Sherman in Washington and Kim Gamel and Robert H. Reid in Baghdad contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Associated Press