– 2006-07-01 23:21:20
Rape, Killing Allegations Set off Probe of US Troops
Soldier Held, 4 others Disarmed after Woman Is Reportedly Assaulted, Slain with her Family
Anna Badkhen / San Francisco Chronicle
(July 1, 2006) — A top US general in Iraq ordered a criminal investigation into allegations that American soldiers raped an Iraqi civilian woman, executed her and her family in their house south of Baghdad, and then started a fire to cover up the killings, the military reported Friday.
The investigation adds to a growing list of inquiries into alleged atrocities announced by the military in recent weeks. The most prominent is the investigation into whether US Marines went from house to house in the western town of Haditha in November, executing 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians after a Marine from their unit was killed in a roadside bombing. The military also is looking into allegations that American troops shot an unarmed Iraqi man in February, executed a civilian in April and executed three prisoners in May.
“The nature of wars is such that killings of civilians occur,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. “What makes this recent spate of allegations a little different is the implications that … the US soldiers are knowingly violating the rules. These are all more than mere errors on a battlefield.”
The alleged rape and killings took place March 12 in the insurgent hotbed of Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, when five soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division allegedly raped a woman, burned her body and killed her family in a “crime of opportunity,” the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed American official.
The incident came to light when one soldier, who was apparently not involved in the alleged crimes, reported it during a routine counseling session June 23. A second soldier, who was also not involved, said he overheard soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes, and then later saw bloodstains on their clothes. The investigation began the next day, the AP reported.
The military originally attributed the deaths to “insurgent activity,” American officials said — which means that soldiers involved in the incident may have lied to their commanders about the cause of the alleged killings, or that the chain of command covered them up.
Maj. Gen. James Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, ordered the investigation after a preliminary inquiry. The 502nd Infantry Regiment is attached to the 4th Infantry Division, which operates in Baghdad and its southern outskirts. The AP reported that one soldier has been arrested and that four have had their weapons taken away and are confined to their base in Mahmoudiya. The military refused to identify the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman, said he saw no single reason for the surge in investigations into allegations of US atrocities in Iraq.
“There’s no one thing I can point to as an explanation,” Ballesteros said. “They are horrific allegations, but that’s why they need to be investigated.”
One possible explanation “is that the chain of command is being more vigorous in going after those things,” said John Pike, director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org. “It may be that this has been going on all along and it was just not being reported.”
The increase in alleged atrocities could also be linked to the toll of combat stress on the troops, some of whom are in Iraq for the third time since 2003, said Edward Walker, director of the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“It may just be that we’re reaching the end of some of these kids’ capacity,” Walker said.
Pike said the spike in alleged war crimes could mean that the military leadership routinely has failed to address combat stress of the troops.
“What (the alleged atrocities) have in common is personal misconduct of a sort that shows up in (military) combat stress management field manuals,” said Pike. “The unifying theme is that the troops were excessively stressed out by the normal stress of combat, and the combat stress management system had not caught that in time.”
He added, “Maybe it’s only now the insurgency … is getting to the point where it’s ticking people off.”
A 2004 study of soldiers and Marines who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that although 1 in 6 met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or general anxiety disorder, only 40 percent or fewer of those troops actually received help while on active duty.
As the Iraqi insurgency gathers steam, US soldiers are exposed to more and more daily violence. In June, two soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment were abducted at a US Army checkpoint in the town of Yusufiya, another insurgent bedrock near Mahmoudiya, and were killed by insurgents. Their mutilated bodies were booby-trapped and left by the side of the road. A third soldier, also from the 502nd, was killed in the same ambush.
The suspects in the alleged rape-killing incident were from the same platoon as the kidnapped soldiers, the AP reported, quoting a US military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Overall, US troops use their weapons far more carefully than they did in the first months after the invasion in 2003, when Lt. Peter Katzfrey of the 299 Engineer Battalion, 4th Infantry Division summed up the rules of engagement as “shoot to kill. No questions asked.”
The US military does not keep count of Iraqi civilians killed by American troops. But the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the toll of dead Iraqis — civilians, security forces and insurgents — is at least 50,000 and almost certainly far higher.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last month that violence against Iraqi civilians by American troops was a “regular occurrence.”
“No one individual thing that we’re doing will create more problems for us than if we continue having a series of reports like this,” said Walker. “It really plays in to the hands of the terrorists. It’s a recruiting tool for them. It undermines our position in the Arab world.”
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