Killings of two soldiers perhaps retaliation for slain Iraqi family
By MICHAEL HEDGES
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Investigators are exploring whether two brutal acts involving the same platoon in Iraq — the abduction and mutilation of two American soldiers in June and the slayings of four Iraqi family members three months earlier — have any direct link, officials said Monday.
Steven D. Green, 21, a former soldier from the same 40-man unit as slain Houston Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, was charged Monday with rape and murder in an incident that occurred in March, military officials confirmed. He was ordered held without bail.
The investigation leading to Green's arrest began last month after the bodies of Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Oregon were recovered and soldiers in their platoon spoke at a "combat stress debriefing" about the alleged rape-slaying of a young woman and the deaths of her family.
Green apparently knew at least one of the soldiers who had been abducted on June 16. The FBI affidavit supporting his arrest said he had "attended a funeral for one of the soldiers who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists." Federal authorities could not clarify whose burial service Green attended.
Investigators are now looking into whether the Iraqis abducted Menchaca and Tucker in retaliation for the killing of the Iraqis, civilian and military officials said.
"That possibility leaps to one's mind. At this point, do we have any evidence of that? No," said Marisa Ford, the chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorneys office in Louisville, Ky., which is conducting the investigation in the United States. "It is still very early in this investigation."
"Right now we just do not know what the motivation was for the abduction of those soldiers," said a military officer who requested anonymity. "It does seem to be unusual for (Iraqi insurgents) to kidnap soldiers."
Only one other American soldier, Pfc. Kevin Maupin, has been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents since the end of the ground war in May 2003. Maupin is listed as missing in action.
Green was arraigned in Charlotte, N.C., and is expected to be tried as a civilian on the federal murder and rape charges in Kentucky, where his former unit, the 101st Airborne Division, is based, Ford said.
He had been discharged before the charges were filed. But Ford said there is a mechanism under which the military could order Green back to active duty for a court-martial.
The federal murder charges carry a possible penalty of death.
Documents filed by the FBI in the case described a horrific, premeditated crime.
Green and other soldiers in the platoon spotted a woman, who was described in the FBI papers as "about 25," while working at a traffic checkpoint. Other media reports have said she was a teenager of about 14 or 15.
The Americans talked about raping her while drinking alcohol at the checkpoint, the FBI documents said, quoting two soldiers who are now cooperating with military authorities.
Green and three others went to her house in the Iraq village of Mahmudiyah on March 12. They left behind a fifth soldier to monitor a radio link to headquarters, the FBI statement said.
Once inside the house, Green took three family members — an adult male, a female and a 5-year-old — into a room, and the other soldiers heard a series of gunshots, the FBI statement said.
"I just killed them, all are dead," the witnesses quoted Green as saying.
The murder weapon was an AK-47 found at the house, the FBI statement said.
Green and another soldier now detained in Iraq raped the young woman, the witnesses told the authorities. Then, the witnesses said, Green shot the woman in the head, killing her.
No other soldier has been charged in the case, Maj. Joseph Breasseale, a military spokesman in Baghdad, told the Associated Press. Military officials have said they have disarmed four soldiers and ordered them confined to their base near Mahmudiyah.