US soldiers get punished for crimes in Iraq

by Fanny Carrier

US troops found guilty of killing, raping or otherwise mistreating Iraqi civilians have begun receiving tough sentences for their crimes, but more serious trials are yet to come.

Two soldiers, who had pleaded guilty to raping and murdering an Iraqi girl and three members of her family in the town of Mahmoudiyah last March, have now received life sentences, but on relatively mild terms.

Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, was sentenced Thursday to 100 years of prison, but he will be eligible for parole after just 10 years behind bars.

Private James Barker, 23, who last November received a 90-year prison sentence, will be able to go free in 20 years.

Two other soldiers, who face lesser charges in the case, must appear at the end of March and the beginning of April before the same court-martial in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The case of a fifth man, Steven Green, who has been dismissed from the army, is being handled by a federal court in Kentucky.

Suspected of being the instigator of the crime, he may face the death penalty, but the date of his trial has not been set yet.

The five men were members of the prestigious 101st Airborne Division, as were four other soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqi prisoners during a May 2006 raid in central Iraq.

Three of them pleaded guilty in Fort Campbell. As a result, two were sentenced to 18 years of prison for murder and the third got nine months for hitting prisoners and causing injuries.

A fourth man, Sergeant Raymond Girouard, accused of ordering the killings is scheduled to face trial in March and risks spending the rest of his life in jail.

In Camp Pendleton, California, eight servicemen are accused of killing an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania last April and trying to cover up the crime by presenting it as an anti-insurgency operation.

Four of them have already pleaded guilty and were sentenced from 12 to 21 months of prison.

Three others, among them the commander of the unit, pleaded not guilty and must face trial in March and April.

The eighth has not yet made his defense strategy known.

Some of those charged may face the death penalty.

Six other marines, accused of attacking Iraqi civilians in Hamdania in March 2006, should also face court-martial in Camp Pendleton.

The sprawling marine base will also be the scene of judicial proceedings against eight other members of the corps implicated in the drama of Haditha, where 24 men, women and Iraqi children were killed in November 2005.

Sergeant Frank Wuterich, 26, and three other marines have been charged with the murders and four others with giving inaccurate accounts of the events.

The most serious charges are likely to bring life sentences.

The soldiers claimed they had followed the rules of engagement and opened fire after coming under attack, but a confidential army report disclosed in January by the Washington Post disputed these accounts, saying the marines were enraged by the death of a member of their team.

Even though the United States does not allow its soldiers to be extradited, criminal proceedings have also begun abroad.

In April, an Italian court is scheduled to begin the trial in his absence of US Private Mario Lozano, accused of killing Italian security agent Nicola Calipari in March 2005.

In Britain, a criminal case was reopened after the release of a videotape showing two American pilots opening fire in error on their allies in March 2003 and killing a British soldier.

After learning they had hit a friendly vehicle, one of the pilots can be heard on the tape saying: "We're going to jail, dude."