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Mahmudiya rape-murder witness testifies on combat stress as military hearing continues

[JURIST] Pfc. Justin Cross told a US military panel in Baghdad Tuesday that combat stress "crushed" troop morale in Mahmudiya [JURIST news archive], the area where four soldiers and one former soldier allegedly raped a 14-year old Iraqi girl and killed the girl and her family on March 12, because the troops had a constant fear of death in the notoriously dangerous region south of Baghdad. The Article 32 hearing [Navy JAG backgrounder] for Pfc. Jesse Spielman, Spc. James Barker, Sgt. Paul Cortez and Pfc. Bryan Howard, which began Sunday [JURIST report], heard testimony [JURIST report] Monday from military investigator Benjamin Bierce, who told the court that he took a sworn statement from Barker saying that former soldier Steven Green raped and shot Abeer Qassim al-Janabi after he shot and killed three of her family members. The military court has banned the media from publicizing the testimony of Iraqi witnesses [JURIST report] because the witnesses fear for their lives.

Spielman, Barker, Cortez and Howard have been charged [JURIST report] with rape and murder, while Sgt. Anthony Yribe has been charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report the incident and making false statements about the incident. Lawyers representing the four core defendants demanded a new hearing Tuesday, arguing that Yribe's lawyer asked incriminating questions. Green, who was discharged from the Army before the allegations arose, has pleaded not guilty to charges [JURIST reports] of rape and murder in the US District Court for the District of Kentucky [official website]. Green's arraignment has been delayed [JURIST report] to avoid complications with evidence used in the investigation [JURIST report] into the five soldiers still in Iraq. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.

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