Our #2 story of 2009 is the conclusion of another media heavy saga from Operation Iraqi Freedom. The story of PFC Steven Green began in June 2006 when “after insurgents killed a member of Green’s [platoon] and kidnapped and beheaded two others . . . another soldier in [his] infantry unit told Army combat-stress counselors in Baghdad about the alleged murders in Mahmudiya.” See Time Report here. The military had initially suspected insurgents in the killings so Green had already been discharged for a personality disorder, before which time he had expressed homicidal ideations about Iraqis. The rape of the Iraqi girl and subsequent murder of the girl and her family by Green and platoon-mates in March 2006 sparked international media attention.
The 2009 trial, and particularly the sentencing phase of the case, ultimately focused on a too familiar theme, combat stress. As the NYT wrote,
[Upon arrival in Iraq, Green’s] battalion quickly suffered casualties, including a sergeant close to Private Green. In December, Private Green, along with other members of his platoon, told an Army stress counselor that he wanted to take revenge on Iraqis, including civilians. The counselor labeled the unit “mission incapable” because of poor morale, high combat stress and anger over the deaths, and said it needed both stronger supervision and rest. It got neither, testimony at Mr. Green’s trial showed.
On March 11, 2006, after drinking Iraqi whiskey, Private Green and other soldiers manning a checkpoint decided to rape an Iraqi girl who lived nearby, according to testimony. Wearing civilian clothing, the soldiers broke into a house and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Soldiers in the group testified that Private Green killed the girl’s parents and a younger sister before raping and then shooting the girl in the head with the family’s own AK-47, which it had kept for self defense.
The oft delayed trial due to quilt shows, and all manner of fits and starts, resulted in Green’s conviction on 17 counts, including premeditated murder, and went to a capital sentencing phase. The sentencing case included an appearance from Professor Gary Solis, coverage here, who testified on the impact of combat stress on unit leadership and preventing war crimes. Others testified on standard capital subjects, but the most poignant and newsworthy testimony focused on combat stress as a reason to spare Green’s life. Ultimately the jury agreed, as it hung on the issue of the death penalty, resulting in a mandatory life sentence.
While the government may have wanted the death penalty, the reality is that the case will fade away and become final far sooner without the death sentence. The conviction and five life sentences, see coverage here, was a victory for the US government’s efforts to prosecute former servicemembers after losing some earlier high profile cases. It also highlighted, yet again, the problem of combat stress on today’s all volunteer force–a potential issue in our other Top 10 entries.
Green’s case will linger in the news with the filing of his appeal, see CAAFlog coverage here, but will hardly bring the national attention that the trial and setnencing garnered. Mil Jus wonks will want to follow the appeal to, as CAAFlog noted, compare the United States’ response to Green’s contention he was subject to the UCMJ because the Army failed to properly dioscharge him to the arguments the U.S. has advanced in asserting post-DD 214 jurisdiction in court-martial cases.