MAHMUDIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Relatives of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed along with her family by U.S. soldiers expressed outrage Friday that the ringleader received a life sentence in a U.S. court instead of execution.
Former U.S. soldier Steven Green, 24, will be sentenced to life in prison after a jury Thursday failed to agree on whether he deserved death, the penalty sought by prosecutors.
He was found guilty by the same jury two weeks ago of committing the 2006 crimes on the outskirts of the town of Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.
“It’s a real shock. That court decision is a crime — almost worse than the soldier’s crime,” said Raad Yusuf, 40, the girl’s uncle, from his house on a farm near the town.
Prosecutors said Green was the ringleader of a gang of five soldiers who plotted the attack, donned black “ninja” outfits and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi before killing her, her father, mother and 6-year-old sister.
Execution is commonplace in Iraq and across the Middle East for lesser crimes than Green’s. At least a dozen convicts were executed this month in Baghdad and over 100 are on death row.
Raad said Green’s sentence smacks of double standards.
“Imagine the situation reversed: if a non-American had done this crime, the world would be up in arms and surely he would have been executed,” he said.
The girl’s grandmother Muneera Mohammed Janabi broke down and wept when she was told of the court’s decision.
“Why did they kill her? Why?” she sobbed. “And why this unjust verdict? They should consider our family — we live in sadness. I will hate American soldiers until I go to my grave.”
Another uncle, Hamza Mehsan, 53, shouted and shook the sleeves of his traditional white dish dasha or robe: “How can that criminal rape and kill in cold blood and still evade execution? We reject this verdict,” he said.
Iraqis interviewed by Reuters in the agricultural market town of Mahmudiya agreed with the family’s sentiments and some said the court was hypocritical for sparing the life of an American soldier when an Iraqi committing such crimes against Americans would, they said, have faced death.
Alaa al-Haribi, 35, a civil servant, said Iraqis felt powerless because the trial had gone ahead in the United States.
But one Mahmudiya resident, truck driver Mahmoud Janabi — not a relative — said the sentence, though falling short of what he hoped, would still send a strong message to U.S. troops.
“I’m happy because at least other American soldiers will see this and think twice before doing acts like this again,” he said, drinking tea and smoking a water pipe at a local cafe.
Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed in Baghdad; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Mark Trevelyan