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Monday, July 17, 2006

The no enders

Amid War, Some Violence May Be Personal
From a Squad of Nine, Six Are Charged in Crimes Against Iraqis, and Three Are Dead

By Sonya Geis and John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 16, 2006; A03

On March 12, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl was raped, and she and her father, mother and sister were gunned down in their home.

Three months later, three U.S. soldiers were slain by insurgents. One was shot and two others were kidnapped and killed and their bodies mutilated in what a group linked to al-Qaeda declared was retribution for the attack on the Iraqi family.

Four soldiers and one former soldier have now been charged in connection with the rape and homicides. Another soldier has been charged with failing to report the incident.

One of the questions surrounding two of the most dreadful incidents of the war is whether they are connected. Did the alleged rape and murder of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops beget the torture and slaying of their own comrades?

Earlier this month, the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council posted a gruesome video on the Internet showing the soldiers' disfigured bodies and said they were executed to "avenge" the rape and homicides. Army investigators deny the claims and say there is no connection between the incidents, though military spokesmen did not respond to questions last week about why they believe that.


The soldiers were all members of 1st Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Some family members said they believe there must be some connection between the two incidents.

"There's nine guys on a squad," said Nancy Hess, mother of Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 21, who is one of the five charged in the crimes. "Three of them were killed. Six of them are being charged."

The three were Spec. David J. Babineau, shot during an ambush in which Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker were kidnapped. Menchaca was found with his throat slit, and he was so badly beaten he was unrecognizable. Tucker had been beheaded.

In addition to Spielman, those charged are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spec. James P. Barker, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard and a former private, Steven D. Green, who had been discharged from the military for a personality disorder. Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe has been charged for failing to report the incident.

Spielman was close to Menchaca, Tucker and Babineau, his mother said. She said her son and other soldiers discovered Babineau's body at a checkpoint after Menchaca and Tucker were kidnapped. "His very best friend was laying there," Hess said.

Yribe's mother, Roberta Dachtler, said her son was particularly close to Babineau and eulogized him in a memorial service at the regiment's base camp south of Baghdad. "David was one of my son's closer friends," she said.

"Tony is devastated as he knows that you are, and wants you to know that you will never be alone, and that he cares a great deal about you," Dachtler wrote in a message posted for Babineau's family on a Web site devoted to U.S. troops killed in Iraq.

Green attended a service for Babineau at Arlington National Cemetery in June.

Barker expressed his sympathy to Menchaca in his own way. In late June, just before he was charged in the alleged rape and homicide, Barker placed a note on the slain soldier's Web page. "R.I.P," it read. "We ran a muk. I will miss you, sleep well my friend."
Some had had brushes with the law. Others had left high school. They went by nicknames such as Vanilla, Bunky and the No-Town Soldier. They came from little towns and small cities. On their MySpace pages, they played heavy metal music, appeared brash, fantasized about one-night stands with movie stars, boasted about their cars and talked trash about their enemies in Iraq.


Green's life was apparently the most troubled of all the indicted. Raised mostly in Midland, Tex., his parents divorced when he was 4. When he was 15, his mother was jailed for six months for drunken driving. Two years later, Green dropped out of Coleman High School, an institution for students who have trouble in regular school. Days before he joined the Army last year, Green spent three days in custody after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol. Previously, he had been arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Relatives said they believed the Army would help straighten him out. By December of last year, a picture of Green about to shoot a lock off the door of an abandoned Iraqi house was featured beside an Army public relations article.

Green received an honorable discharge and left the army in mid-May after 11 months. He was discharged because of an "anti-social personality disorder," according to military officials and court documents, although officials said his discharge was not related to the alleged crime.

Barker, 23, was raised a Jehovah's Witness in Fresno, Calif. He worked as a go-cart attendant before joining the Army, his friends said. He has two children with a wife he is divorcing, and a newborn at home with a girlfriend.

The friends, who call him "Bunky," were staggered by his arrest. "We never thought of him doing something like that. He was a pretty swell guy," Jesus Caranza told the Fresno Bee. "When he left for the Army, he didn't really want to go, but he went out of obligation because he had nothing else going for him. No job."
Bryan Howard spent his high school years in Huffman, Tex., in JROTC, where he excelled, his father said. His teacher in the program, 1st Sgt. Terry Vaughn, told the Houston Chronicle that Howard "was an awesome kid in high school. No discipline problem and a pleasure to teach."

Howard's friend, Michael Doke, said Howard "showed up early every day and reported in after school. We also did color guard together and went to basketball games and football games to do the flag." His friend earned good grades and is a fun-loving person, Doke said.

When he heard the news of Howard's arrest, "The first thing I thought is, I figured it was someone from his unit or squad and they're lumping everyone together, because that's what they do," Doke said. "A couple people from the squad do something, and the whole squad gets into trouble."

The Army wants there to be no connection because they don't want the idea of Iraqis taking personal revenge to be validated. Especially, carefully planned revenge like this.

posted by Steve @ 8:42:00 AM

8:42:00 AM

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