Ali Al-mahmouri  /  AP file
Neighbor and eyewitness Hussein Mohammed looks at the charred and blood-splattered floor and wall where he found the body of the young Iraqi girl raped then killed along with her family in their home, in this July 6 photo, in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.
updated 11/17/2006 9:01:56 AM ET 2006-11-17T14:01:56

A soldier who was sentenced to 90 years in prison for conspiring to rape a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and kill her and her family said he knew his actions would harm support for the U.S. military’s mission in Iraq.

At his sentencing Thursday, Spc. James P. Barker, one of four Fort Campbell soldiers accused in the March 12 rape and killings, begged Iraqis not to cast judgment on other troops.

“I do not ask anyone to forgive me today,” he tearfully told the judge. “I don’t know how that would be possible after what I have done. I do ask the Iraqi people not to blame my brothers still fighting in Iraq.”

Barker pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to testify against the others to avoid the death penalty.

The killings in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad, were among the worst in a series of alleged attacks on civilians and other abuses by military personnel in Iraq.

Under the plea agreement, Barker got a life sentence but will not serve more than 90 years in prison, said Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, the military judge presiding over the court-martial. He will be eligible for parole in 20 years.

Barker, 23, showed no reaction when the sentence was read. Afterward, he smoked a cigarette outside as a bailiff watched over him. He grinned but said nothing as reporters passed by.

3 more face charges
Military prosecutors declined to comment after sentencing because the three other soldiers have yet to be tried.

In his closing statement, Barker said stressful conditions in Iraq made him angry and violent.

“To live there, to survive there, I became angry and mean. The mean part of me made me strong on patrols. It made me brave in fire fights,” he said. “I loved my friends, my fellow soldiers and my leaders, but I began to hate everyone else in Iraq.”

Some of Barker’s fellow soldiers testified on his behalf, describing weeks with little support and sleep while manning distant checkpoints.

“The bottom line is they were not giving the soldiers the tools, were not giving the soldiers the combat stress treatment, were not giving them enough troops on the ground to fulfill their mission,” defense attorney David Sheldon said after the sentencing.

Capt. William Fischbach, the lead prosecutor, told the court that such conditions were no excuse for Barker, who led the group to the family’s house, and that no one deserved such unspeakable horrors.

“This burned-out corpse that used to be a 14-year-old girl never fired bullets or lobbed mortars,” Fischbach said as he held pictures of the crime scene.

Concealing a crime
The defendants are accused of burning the girl’s body to conceal the crime.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, has deferred entering a plea, and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, will be arraigned in December. Both are members of the 101st Airborne Division along with Barker and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 19, also deferred entering a plea at his arraignment in October. He does not face the death penalty.

Steven Green, 21, pleaded not guilty last week to civilian charges including murder and sexual assault. The former private was discharged for a “personality disorder” before the allegations became known, and prosecutors have yet to say whether they will pursue the death penalty against him.

In earlier testimony, Barker described in detail how he raped Abeer Qassim al-Janabi with Cortez and Green before Green killed the girl, her younger sister and parents.

“Cortez pushed her to the ground. I went towards the top of her and kind of held her hands down while Cortez proceeded to lift her dress up,” he said. “Around that time I heard shots coming from a room next door.”

Barker did not name Spielman and Howard as participants in the rape and killings but said Spielman went along to the house knowing what the others intended to do. Prosecutors said Howard had been left behind at a checkpoint.

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