Thursday, August 17, 2006

Rape, Murder, the American GI...and Midland, Texas

Rape, Murder, and the American GI

When news surfaced that GIs allegedly stalked, terrorized, gang-raped, and killed an Iraqi woman, the U.S. tried minimizing this latest atrocity by our troops -- claiming the victim was age 25 or even 50, implying a rape-murder is less horrific if the victim is an older woman. Now, Article 32 hearings -- the military equivalent of a grand jury -- have ended at Camp Liberty, a U.S. base in Iraq (U.S. troops are exempt from Iraqi prosecution). In September, a general will rule whether the accused should be court-martialed. The defense already pleads post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): in four months preceding the crime, 17 of the accused GIs' battalion were killed; their company, Bravo, suffered eight combat deaths.

But as the U.S. spun the victim's identity, investigators knew her name: Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi.

Abeer means "fragrance of flowers." She was 14 years old.

The soldiers noticed her at a checkpoint. They stalked her after one or more of them expressed his intention to rape her. On March 12, after playing cards while slugging whisky mixed with a high-energy drink, they changed into black civvies and burst into Abeer's home in Mahmoudiya, a town 50 miles south of Baghdad. They killed her mother Fikhriya, father Qassim, and five-year-old sister Hadeel with bullets to the forehead, and "took turns" raping Abeer. Finally, they murdered her, drenched the bodies with kerosene, and lit them on fire to destroy the evidence. Then the GIs grilled chicken wings and practiced their golf swings.

These details are from a sworn statement by Spc. James P. Barker, one of the accused along with Sgt. Paul Cortez, Pfc. Jesse Spielman, and Pfc. Bryan Howard; a fifth, Sgt. Anthony Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but not with having participated.

Then there's former Pfc. Steven Green. Discharged in May for a "personality disorder," Green was arrested in North Carolina, pled not guilty in federal court, and is being held without bond. He's the convenient scapegoat whose squad leader testified how often Green said he hated all Iraqis and wanted to kill them. Other soldiers said Green threw a puppy off a roof, then set it on fire. The company commander noted Green had "serious anger issues."

Who is this "bad apple"? A good ole boy from Midland, Texas.

"If you want to understand me, you need to understand Midland," says President Bush. Steven Green understands Midland -- his home until his parents divorced and his mother remarried when Green was eight, already in trouble in school. A high-school dropout, Green returned to Midland to get his GED in 2003. Then, in 2005, he enlisted. He immersed himself in a chapel baptismal pool at Fort Benning, Georgia -- getting "born again" while being trained how to kill legally and die heroically. He was 19, with three convictions: fighting, and alcohol and drug possession.

Once, the Army would have rejected him. But he enlisted when, desperate for fresh recruits, the Army started increasing, by nearly half, the rate at which it grants what it terms "moral waivers" to potential recruits. According to the Pentagon, waivers in 2001 totaled 7,640, increasing to 11,018 in 2005. "Moral waivers" permit recruits with criminal records, emotional problems, and weak educational backgrounds to be taught how to use submachine guns and rocket launchers. Afterward, if they survive, they'll be called heroes -- and released back into society. (One ex-soldier praising the military for having "properly trained and hardened me" was Timothy McVeigh).

The U.S. military is now a mercenary force. In addition to hired militias and "independent contractors," we do have a draft: a poverty draft. That's why the Army is so disproportionately comprised of people of color, seeking education, health care, housing. But the military inflicts other perks: teenage males, hormones surging, are taught to confuse their bodies with weapons, and relish that.

One notorious training song (with lewd gestures) goes: "This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun." The U.S. Air Force admits showing films of violent pornography to pilots before they fly bombing raids. Military manuals are replete with such blatant phrases as "erector launchers," "thrust ratios," "rigid deep earth-penetration," "potent nuclear hardness."

"Soft targets"? Civilians. Her name means "fragrance of flowers."