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PADUCAH, Kentucky (Reuters) - A former U.S. soldier on trial in the gang rape of an Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family in the war zone in 2006 was caught in a "perfect storm of insanity," his lawyer told a jury on Monday.
But government prosecutors in the same courtroom said former Private 1st Class Steven Green, alleged ringleader of the slayings, was only interested in killing Iraqis "nonstop" and bragged during a barbecue celebration later that what he had done was "awesome."
Green, 23, is being tried in federal court as a civilian since his arrest came after he was discharged from the U.S. Army later in 2006 for a "personality disorder."
He is the last of five men charged in the rape of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, 14, and the slaying of her and her father, mother and 6-year-old sister. The incident unfolded after the soldiers drank whiskey, played cards, and plotted the attack in Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, prosecutors have said.
Three of the other soldiers pleaded guilty in the attack and the fourth was convicted, all in military courts-martial. They were given sentences of from five to 100 years, though they could be paroled much sooner. Prosecutors said they are seeking the death penalty for Green.
In opening statements at the trial, Patrick Bouldin, a public defender, said Green's platoon had been decimated by deaths and injuries before the crime.
"You have to understand the background that leads up to this perfect storm of insanity," Bouldin told the jury.
Bouldin said Green had sought help dealing with combat stress after the deaths of close colleagues and was unsure whether Iraqis he encountered were friend or foe.
"They couldn't tell the village people and the farmers from the insurgents and the terrorists," he said.
Green, from Midland, Texas, faces 17 charges including sexual assault, murder, and obstruction of justice.
Outlining the gruesome details of the crime, federal prosecutor Brian Skaret said: "Who could have done these things? It wasn't done by insurgents or terrorists. It was the work of this man, Steven Green."
He said Green took his turn raping the girl after he shot to death the girl's mother, father and sister. He said Green was predisposed to the crime.
"Steven Green wanted to kill Iraqi civilians," Skaret said. "He wanted to kill them all the time, nonstop."
After the crime, Skaret said, the men celebrated with a barbecue, and Green was said to have commented "that was awesome." He also told an Army investigator the day after, "I did that. I killed them," Skaret said.
The family was chosen because the soldiers viewed them as an easy target, prosecutors have said.
Iraqis were horrified by the crime, one of a series of incidents involving U.S. soldiers that strained relations with the Iraqi government. But the onset of Green's trial three years later is not resonating with most Iraqis, observers there say.
The incident was portrayed in the 2007 movie "Redacted" by director Brian De Palma, who complained the film was censored by the studio. Its graphic images shocked many viewers.
Editing by Michael Conlon and Andrew Stern in Chicago