Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Today the US military announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died July 30 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province." 3653 is the number of announced deaths of US service members in the Iraq war since it started and 74 is the number announced who have died in the illegal war thus far this month (ICCC figures).

Turning to news of Abeer. Gang-raped by US soldiers while they murdered both of her parents and her five-year-old sister, then they murdered her and tried to set fire to her body after breaking into her home in a plan that included damaging the family's fence ahead of time, leered in the days prior with Steven D. Green reportedly even stroking the underage girl's face (no wonder the child was so freaked out and her parents had made plans to move her for her own safety) and rendered invisible repeatedly by the New York Times. She was murdered on March 12, 2006. Multiple US soldiers have pleaded guilty to their actions in war crimes. Apparently James P. Barker and Paul Cortez alone last year didn't reach the magic number? Or is that over a year later, it's finally time to name her? Or maybe an editor just wasn't paying close attention? Regardless, via AP's "Soldier Admits Lesser Crimes in Iraq Killings" Abeer's name finally makes into print at the New York Times, A15.

Let's return to what Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post) reported last summer:

Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmudiyah, her mother told the neighbor.
Abeer told her mother again and again in her last days that the soldiers had made advances toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation he said he had with the girl's mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.
Fakhriyah feared that the Americans might come for her daughter at night, at their home. She asked her neighbor if Abeer might sleep at his house, with the women there.

For those who've forgotten, there was confusion about Abeer's age originally. An ID card set the record straight (had she not been murdered, she would have turned 15 last August) and had the US military finally stop their campaign claiming she wasn't just an adult, she was well over 20.

For those who've forgotten or missed it, an Article 32 hearing took place in August of 2006 when All Things Media Big and Small reduced Iraq to a footnote. Here's how the military prosecuter, Capt. Alex Pickands, summer up what went down, "They gathered over cards and booze to come up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl. She was young and attractive. They knew where she was because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable."

The AP article in the Times today tells you that Jesse V. Spielman entered a plea of guilty to some charges but denies knowing of the events ahead of time. He owned up to arson. They tried to destroy the evidence of the war crimes by burning Abeer's body -- they also said it was 'insurgents' that did the crimes. He owned up to obstruction of justice, to "touching a corpse and drinking" -- but apparently in that drunken card game while the plot was being hatched Spielman was taking a long piss and apparently far too drunk to grasp that the others changing their clothes and all heading -- in the dead of night -- to an Iraqi home was in any way out of the norm. Maybe he just thought Steven D. Green (who has denied he had anything to do with the war crimes but other witness finger him as the ringleader, note he was last in line in the gang-rape and assert that he is the one who shot dead Abeer, her parents and her sister) was in love with Abeer and this was just funning? Maybe in Penn. it's perfectly normal for adult males to express their desire for 14-year-old girls?

It's not. And this is the war crime that should have gotten serious attention. They leered at her, they made comments to her, they touched her -- all in the lead up to the war crimes. And it was never "okay." No adult male in the United States is under the impression that he can get away with consensual sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl. This wasn't consensual. They plotted to rape and kill her. They knew what they were doing was wrong. They weren't sent out on a mission by commanders where things were confusing and then went tragically wrong resulting in details that had to be sorted out later. They snuck off to conduct these war crimes.

The criminal nature of their actions were never in doubt. That's why they had to sneak off. That's why they tried to burn her body and tried to blame it on 'insurgents.' And they almost got away with it.

They knew all along what they were doing in the lead up was wrong. They didn't stop. They frightened Abeer so much she told her parents and they made plans to have her moved. If they'd attempted to attack the next day, she wouldn't have been there. Her brother (who wasn't in the house) has explained that, neighbors have explained that.

The crimes didn't just happen. They weren't the result of a mission gone tragically wrong.

There was never any doubt that these were war crimes. (Though last summer some online voices issued threatening, blustering remarks to any who called it out for what it was.)

And there was never any doubt in the minds of those participating that what they were doing was criminal. This wasn't a case of 'different cultural expectations.' Rape is rape and there's not an adult male in the US who doesn't know that it's a crime. But that didn't stop them from gang-raping a 14-year-old girl. Murder is a crime. But that didn't give Paul Cortez or James P. Barker any pause as they went about gang-raping Abeer while shots in the next room (the parents' bedroom rang out). They gang-raped her and not only did she have to experience that, not only did she have to experience the fears of that and of a home invasion, while they gang-raped the little girl she had to hear the sounds of her parents and her sister being murdered in the next room.

Even with the few in small media that covered it seriously (Robin Morgan and Off Our Backs among them), this still hasn't gotten the attention it needs. These were war crimes. And the New York Times' response was to refuse to name Abeer in print. The paper's response was, in the lead up to the Article 32 hearing, to feature a defense of the war crimes masking as reporting. A defense that, remember, was the same one the defendents would attempt to present in the Article 32 hearing and one that, a military law expert would explain in another outlet, had no known precedent. But somehow Robert F. Worth and Carolyn Marshall just stumbled upon the same tactic for their article that the defendents would argue.

As Capt. Alex Pickands would sum up in the Article 32 hearing, "Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today. Not all that business about cold food, checkpoints, personnel assignments. Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl."

There was never any excuse for the crimes and there was never any excuse for the journalistic crimes the New York Times carried out or the silences that greeted these crimes in other outlets.

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