FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier under court-martial at a Kentucky military base broke down in tears on Wednesday as he described how he and others planned the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, murdered along with her family.
Sgt. Paul Cortez, 24, is the second U.S. soldier to plead guilty to raping the girl and killing her and her family in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, in March 2006. The soldiers then poured kerosene on the girl’s body and lit her on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime.
Cortez, wearing a dress green uniform and flanked by his civilian and military lawyers, described how he, Spc. James Barker and a since-discharged soldier, Pvt. Steven Green, planned the attack over liquor and a game of cards.
“While we were playing cards Barker and Green started talking about having sex with an Iraqi female. Barker and Green had already known...” Cortez said before breaking down. He bowed his head and remained silent, sniffling occasionally, for a full minute before continuing.
“Barker and Green had already known what, um, house they wanted to go to ... knew only one male was in the house, and knew it would be an easy target,” Cortez said.
Once at the house, Green, the suspected ringleader, took the girl’s mother, father and little sister into a bedroom, Cortez said, while he and Barker took the teenager, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, to the living room.
“She kept squirming and trying to keep her legs closed and saying stuff in Arabic,” Cortez said.
“During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard five or six gunshots that came from the bedroom. After Barker was done, Green came out of the bedroom and said that he had killed them all, that all of them were dead,” Cortez said.
“Green then placed himself between Abeer’s legs to rape her,” Cortez said, sniffing audibly. When Green was finished, he “stood up and shot Abeer in the head two or three times.” The entire crime took about five minutes to carry out, he added.
Cortez said the girl knew her parents and sister had been shot while she was being raped. He said she screamed and cried throughout the assault.
A recess was granted in the middle of his testimony to allow him to regain his composure. About two dozen spectators attended the hearing in a tiny courtroom on the base.
The military judge accepted Cortez’s guilty plea, and will likely impose a sentence later on Wednesday or on Thursday. Cortez could face life in prison without possibility of parole for the rape and four counts of murder.
According to the charges, three soldiers raped the girl, while another helped commit the crimes. A fifth kept watch back at their outpost. All have been charged.
Barker pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced to 90 years in a military prison. Green was discharged from the Army for a “personality disorder” and is in a Kentucky prison awaiting civilian trial.
Barker and Cortez both avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty and have agreed to testify against Green and others charged in the crime.
Cortez also pleaded guilty to rape, arson and breaking into the girl’s house and to obstruction of justice for helping get rid of the murder weapon, an AK-47, which was thrown into a canal.
The other soldiers accused in the case are Pvt. Jesse Spielman and Pvt. Bryan Howard.