Payback’s a Bitch

July 11, 2006 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Abeer Qasim HamzaYesterday, a video from the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq surfaced on the Internet, purportedly showing the mutilated bodies of two kidnapped American soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon, who were found murdered, their bodies booby trapped with explosives, on 20 June. The two soldiers had been ambushed by insurgents in Yusufiya, near Mahmudiya, the day before. While their personal tragedy is horrific, the larger story is that only now is the truth emerging -– their slaughter was revenge for the 12 March rape and murder of an Iraqi child and the slaughter of her family. Unfortunately for Menchaca and Tucker, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been members of the same Army brigade which committed the rape and murders — the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

As the story unfolds, it’s now known that the Iraqi “woman” was, in fact, a 14-year-old child, Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janab, of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad. While U.S. documents described her as an “adult female,” she was, in reality, born on 19 August 1991 in Baghdad, as corroborated by her identity card and death certificate. The usual media spin was put on news of the video last night, with no network showing it because basically, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper put it, we don’t want to pander to terrorists.

But isn’t this censorship? It apparently was news, as it was the lead story on CNN until the Mumbai terrorist attacks occurred today. Should we not be allowed to view the video and make up our own minds? We’d think that, if anything, airing of videos such as Nicholas Berg’s beheading and the Menchaca-Tucker video would bring home in a very real way for Americans the extent to which determined terrorists can and will go. But then, maybe seeing such videos would make Americans wonder if we really want to be in Iraq.

Abeer's MotherAbeer’s death was brutal. Was it any less brutal than the deaths of the two American soldiers? You be the judge. Abeer was pretty, and afraid. She had to go through the nearby Army checkpoint often, and told her mother that she was afraid of the way the troops looked at her. After watching Abeer and her family for a week and after imbibing some “liquid courage,” the soldiers abandoned their checkpoint, changed into black outfits to minimize detection and headed over to Abeer’s house, about 200 yards away. Remember, her family was there while Abeer was being raped and murdered. (Some accounts say her family was shot first, while other accounts indicate they were killed after Abeer was raped. Does it really matter?) Her death certificate, signed by a doctor named Wael Habib, indicates that she died from “gunshot wounds to the head, with burns.”


Abeer's FatherThen the troops turned their attention to her family. Abeer’s father, Qasim Hamza Rasheed al-Janabi, 34, died of “smashing of the head due to gunshot wounds.” Her mother, Fakhriya Taha Muheisin al-Janabi, 43, died of “several wounds.” Abeer’s little sister, Hadeel, only six, was killed by “several gunshot wounds.” Then to destroy the evidence, the killers set the bodies and the house on fire. Her brothers, ages 10 and 13, only survived because they weren’t home. Abeer was buried in an unmarked grave, because, in Islam, it’s believed that rape brings dishonor to the family. The surviving family felt ashamed of what had happened to her, although they’ve now consented to exhumation for forensic testing.


Steven GreenWhile the U.S. government initially said the murders of the Iraqi “woman,” her parents and her sister were the handiwork of insurgents, an about-face was done after details began to emerge in June during debriefings of other stressed-out soldiers. Former Pfc. Steven Green, honorably discharged this year for a “personality disorder” (which sounds like a nice way of saying complete psychopath in hindsight), was arrested in North Carolina on 30 June for his role as ringleader of the rapists. What did the Army know about Pfc. Green? Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard have been charged with rape, murder and arson. They could face the death penalty in America. Another soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, was charged with dereliction of duty for not reporting the crime when it occurred — three months before the story finally began leaking out. As Maj. General William Caldwell IV said: “He was not there that day, but afterwards had some tacit knowledge of it.”

There’s a subtle cultural bias involved when it’s all right on American television this past week to show the still blood-spattered home in which Abeer’s family was murdered, and the pit outside where their bodies were burned to hide the evidence, but not the video of the two murdered American soldiers. This subtly dehumanizes the Iraqis and minimizes their suffering, while leaving the deaths of the American soldiers sacrosanct. The U.S. military condemned the Mujahideen video for its “complete disregard of human life.” Excuse me?

My Lai MassacreThe Washington Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer spoke with an uncle of Abeer’s named Bassem who lives in Iskandariyah, south of Mahmudiyah. He was quoted as saying: “What is the benefit of publishing this story?. . . People will read about this crime. And they will forget about it the next day.” No, we won’t. What’s the difference between this massacre and incidents such as the infamous My Lai Massacre of the Vietnam War?

Since last November, over 30 soldiers have been implicated in wrongful deaths of civilians in Iraq, including the “incident” in Haditha in which approximately 23 men, women and children were killed, the deaths of three detainees in May and, in late June, two soldiers were charged by the U.S. military for the shooting death in February of a Ramadi resident who was unarmed. Also in June, the Department of Defense announced that it wants to teach troops “warrior core values.” Isn’t it a little late, once the troops are on the ground, to try and teach them basic human values like the difference between right and wrong, which are instilled in a person as a child or not at all?

The deaths of the two American soldiers were tragic. But was the death of Abeer’s family any less tragic? If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. You can find a copy of the video, if you look. It’s out there. It’s gruesome. But what do we expect? You kick my cat, I’ll kill your dog, as the old saying goes. Payback’s a bitch and then you die. Literally.

Read more Iraq war news.

Photo credits: Reuters and The Daily Telegraph News

Copyright ©2006


Comments are closed.