First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
Press barred from military hearing in Iraq for U.S. soldiers

By The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The news media and public will be barred from witnessing the testimony of Iraqis in a hearing for U.S. Army soldiers from Ft. Campbell accused of raping and murdering an Iraqi teenager, an Army commander has ruled.

The restriction was issued July 31 after a request by the trial counsel to protect the Iraqi witnesses, who fear they could be perceived as aiding U.S. forces and be targeted by insurgents. A copy of the order was seen yesterday.

The Army is scheduled later this month to hold an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a grand jury proceeding in which evidence of guilt is adjudged to see if a trial is merited. If the case goes to trial, the suspects could face the death penalty.

The hearing will be for five soldiers from the Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division, four of whom are accused of raping and murdering 14-year-old Abeer al-Janabi near the town of Mahmoudiya on March 12. The fifth soldier is accused of failing to report the crime.

"In recognition of the local national witnesses' significant concerns regarding their safety, access to the proceedings by members of the public and media will be restricted during the testimony of local nationals," said Col. Todd Ebel, the commanding officer of the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

The Iraqis covered by the media restrictions include family members of the alleged victims and members of the Iraqi army, Ebel said.

Ebel was responding to a written plea by trial counsel Capt. Alexander Pickands, who said that four of the five Iraqis approached to testify in the case have expressed "significant concerns regarding their safety."

They "cited phone calls and letters in which they were threatened with harm if they cooperated with U.S. forces during the investigation," Pickands wrote.

"The government believes that the likelihood that Iraqi witnesses will attend the proceedings or produce complete testimony will be jeopardized without assurances that they will not be exposed to the media or public scrutiny," Pickands wrote.

The soldiers accused of raping Abeer al-Janabi are Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard. They are also accused of killing her and three members of her family, including a young sister. A fifth soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a participant.

The accused allegedly saw the victim at a checkpoint in the town and plotted the attack for a week, according to federal court documents.

A former soldier, Steven D. Green, was arrested in June in North Carolina in connection with the case. He was discharged from the Army because of a personality disorder and likely will be tried in federal court. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.

Green is being prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Ky.

On July 20, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell gave prosecutors more time for an indictment against Green. The judge also moved back the ex-soldier's arraignment to Nov. 8, a three-month delay.

The U.S. military has insisted it will punish soldiers who commit crimes against Iraqis. The alleged attack is the latest in a string of accusations that U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq have killed civilians, including the alleged massacre of dozens in Haditha.


U.S. military denies abusing detained journalists in Iraq

NBC News says its free-lance cameraman was mistreated, adding to complaints by men working for Reuters. 05.21.04

Military puts strict rules on media's Guantanamo coverage
Officials say limits are meant to ensure security of both participants, sensitive information. 08.20.04

Military appeals court: Closure of soldiers' hearing was illegal
Judges say Army captain must release edited transcript to The Denver Post, allow most of remaining proceedings to be open. 02.25.05

Pentagon expels journalists from Guantanamo
Spokesman says two reporters were ordered to leave after military hearings canceled; another newspaper claims two of its staffers were also forced out. 06.15.06

Federal judge won't issue gag order in Iraq slaying case
Ban could have kept lawyers, even President Bush from publicly discussing rape and murder of 14-year-old Iraqi girl, slaying of her relatives. 09.02.06

AP chief calls on U.S. either to charge or release photographer
American military in Iraq has imprisoned Bilal Hussein for five months, accusing him of being security threat but never filing charges or permitting public hearing. 09.18.06

Press advocates criticize closure of Guantanamo hearings
In letter to Pentagon, AP says decision to close proceedings for 14 terror suspects 'lock, stock and barrel' violates Defense Department's own regulations. 03.08.07

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 21:33:43
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links