Lawyers for Accused G.I. Say Confession Was Forced
July 22, 2006
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 21 — Lawyers for one of four American soldiers charged with raping an Iraqi girl and killing her and her family accused government interrogators on Friday of forcing a misleading confession from him during an intimidating interrogation. They also said the interrogators had failed to tape the eight-hour interview of the soldier, though military regulations suggest doing so.
Their accusations came on a comparatively quiet but by no means peaceful day across most of Iraq. In a predawn raid in a village outside Baquba, a city northeast of Baghdad, American and Iraqi military forces traded heavy gunfire with a group of gunmen. The battle, which included attacks on several buildings by an American helicopter gunship, killed six people: two militants, two women, a 70-year-old man and a 2-year-old girl, said an Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The accused soldier, Specialist James P. Barker, and three other members of his platoon, part of the 502nd Infantry, were charged this month with raping the girl, who was 14, and killing her and three other family members in a village near the market town of Mahmudiya.
The military had originally blamed insurgents for the killings, which occurred on March 12, but began investigating the incident after an Army private first class, Justin Watt, provided a sworn statement on June 20 alleging American soldiers’ involvement, military officials said.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard were also charged with rape, murder and arson. A fifth person, Steven D. Green, a discharged private first class, was arrested by federal authorities in North Carolina last month and accused of being the ringleader of the group.
The charges against the four soldiers carry the possibility of punishments that include life in prison without possibility of parole, and death.
Specialist Barker, Private Spielman and Sergeant Cortez were being held in military confinement in Iraq pending a hearing to determine whether the charges warranted trial by courts-martial. But they were released about 10 days ago after a military magistrate ruled they were not likely to flee.
Specialist Barker’s lawyers, Capt. James D. Culp in Baghdad and David Sheldon, a civilian lawyer in Washington, said their client had been unfairly intimidated into providing a detailed written confession after a lengthy interrogation by agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
“At the end of the eight hours, the agents made SPC Barker type out his ‘confession’ line by line, telling him what to write nearly word for word,” Mr. Sheldon said in an e-mail message on Friday. He added, “It is incredible that in a case of this magnitude Army investigators did not tape the interrogation.”
Captain Culp and Mr. Sheldon said they hoped to place the actions of Specialist Barker on the night of March 12 in the context of the extreme stress and lethal attacks his unit had encountered during extended stays at a base outside of Mahmudiya. Six of Specialist Barker’s friends in the platoon or attached to it had been killed by enemy fire, they said.
“The fact is, and it is undeniable, that Specialist Barker and the soldiers he served with were under tremendous battlefield stress,” Mr. Sheldon wrote.
Mr. Sheldon also said military prosecutors plan to call Iraqi witnesses at the investigative hearing for the four accused soldiers next month. The hearing, known as an Article 32 hearing, combines elements of a grand jury hearing and a jury trial to determine whether charges warrant a court-martial. In a sign of the sensitivity of the case, the United States ambassador and the top American military commander in Iraq publicly apologized in a statement released here earlier this month.
While violence continued to flare in Iraq on Friday, the number of officially reported deaths, at least 28, was a sharp if momentary decline from previous days. Since, Monday, at least 250 people across Iraq have been killed by gunfire, explosions, suicide attacks and sectarian-led executions.
Earlier this week, the United Nations reported that an average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, suggesting that far more people were being killed than had been reported in news accounts.
The American attack near Baquba began at 3:30 a.m. after a roadside bomb in nearby Hayal al-Nasser struck an American military convoy, a police officer in Baquba said in a telephone interview. American forces established a perimeter around 12 houses inhabited mostly by members of a Sunni tribe, and attacked a number of armed men after they refused orders to leave, the officer said. American military officials said they regretted the death of civilians, including the child.
Also on Friday, an American marine was killed in an insurgent attack in Anbar Province.
The Supreme National Committee for Reconciliation and National Dialogue, which includes representatives of Iraq’s top elected officials, legislators, tribal and political leaders, agreed to meet on Saturday for the first time.
In Mahmudiya, a city controlled by insurgent Sunni Arabs, seven Iraqi soldiers and policemen and six armed insurgents were killed in a three-hour firefight Friday afternoon, said the Interior Ministry official and the city’s mayor, Mouayid Fadhil. About 38 other insurgents were captured, he said.
In Baghdad, the day went by in what passes for calm, with reports of eight people killed and several others wounded in bursts of violence that occurred despite an eight-hour ban on vehicular traffic.
Three policemen and three Iraqi Army soldiers were killed in a two-hour exchange of gunfire with armed men Friday afternoon, the Interior Ministry official said. Around 2 p.m., an explosion killed one person and wounded two others as they left a Shiite mosque in the New Baghdad neighborhood after Friday Prayers, the official said.
The Iraqi police found the bodies of four unidentified people in different parts of the city; each had been tortured and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said. In the volatile Dawra neighborhood an employee of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Bashar Yuhana, was shot and killed.
Omar al-Neami and Mona Mahmoud contributed reporting for this article.