Does Justice Dept.Have the Moral Authority to Ask For Steven Green's Death?

Last year, Jeralyn wrote about the 110 year sentence imposed upon Jesse Spielman for his role in what she called "the ugliest singular atrocity [she could] remember coming out of the Iraq War." Spielman was one of the soldiers tried in courts-martial proceedings for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl and the murders of her parents and younger sister in Mahmoudiya. Today Jeralyn wrote about the conviction and upcoming death phase of the trial of Steven Green, who fired the shots that killed the family.

The 110 year sentence should have disturbed "truth in sentencing" advocates, given that Spielman is eligible for parole after serving 10 years. But parole eligibility is only the opportunity for release, not freedom itself. Much more disturbing is the news that Spielman (and two other soldiers who were sentenced to terms of 100 years and 90 years) may be released after serving only 7 years, thanks to a deal they received for testifying against Green.

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The three men could regain their freedom in 2013 not because new evidence persuaded a judge that they had been sentenced too harshly or because a parole authority decided they had been rehabilitated. Instead, they received the government's recommendation for an early release to reward them for cooperating with the government in the federal court trial of Steven Green. Green avoided a military trial because he was discharged and returned to the United States before the military investigation had been completed, thanks to a sergeant who tried to cover up the crime.

The guilt phase of the federal trial in Paducah ended this week when the jury found Steven Green guilty of 16 crimes, including four murders. Gail McGowan Mellor breaks down the verdicts in this useful post. The jury returns Monday to decide whether Green should get the death penalty.

The three soldiers who testified against Green, having been convicted of conspiracy, are just as guilty as Green. They may not be equally culpable, given that Green fired the shots that killed the family members. But two of the soldiers helped each other rape the 14-year-old before Green attempted to rape her. All four attempted to conceal the completed crime by burning the girl's body before trying to burn down the house. And in this post, Mellor points to evidence that one of the men admitted picking the family to attack because he wanted to rape the 14-year-old, while another agreed to join the group if he could rape her first.

Why, then, does the government believe Green deserves the death penalty while the other three participants in the crime (not counting a lookout) deserve to serve only 7 years? Does ratting out Green atone for their atrocities? Did the Justice Department so desperately need their testimony? As Mellor tells it:

Green bragged about it, standing on a cot at the forward operating base saying, "That was awesome!" He later, more soberly, admitted the crimes to enlisted men, friends at home and another sergeant, Anthony Yribe.

The case against Green could apparently have been made without letting the other three walk free after seven years. Maybe the Justice Department believed the three men would be released soon after becoming parole eligible, and so believed they were effectively receiving only a three year sentence reduction. Even if that were true, the Justice Department should explain why these men deserve to go free after seven years if Green deserves to die.

Having agreed to recommend the release after seven years of the man who picked the target of the rape, who reportedly planned to leave no witnesses and who enlisted Green as the shooter, who held the girl down as his friend raped her and then raped her himself -- having agreed this man deserves only a seven year sentence, where is the government's moral authority when it argues that Green deserves death?

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  • Display: Sort:
    "Be all you can be" (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by NYShooter on Mon May 11, 2009 at 12:18:58 AM EST
    "Green bragged about it, standing on a cot at the forward operating base saying, "That was awesome!" He later, more soberly, admitted the crimes to enlisted men, friends at home and another sergeant, Anthony Yribe."

    This is how far down we have to reach to fill quotas in our "all volunteer" Army; pathologically defective, morally bankrupt, functionally illiterate, and sadistically hard-wired; Not all, for sure, but too many, certainly.

    Abu Ghraib, a few bad apples? Right.

    Bush & Co (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by DancingOpossum on Mon May 11, 2009 at 11:22:57 AM EST
    The main war criminals are George Walker Bush and Richard Cheney.

    Absolutely, but you cannot leave Obama and the rest of the Democrats and Republicans who still support the Iraq war, which Obama called, IIRC, "an extraordinary achievement." You cannot leave any of them out of this reckoning, except for a handful like Kucinich and Sanders. Our "antiwar" president and his co-conspirators in Congress have happily continued to fund, and fund, and fund this war and the one in Afghanistan (where today's news is that we have been using white phosphorus). Obama's vaunted "first 100 days" included the bombing of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So if you're going to blame Bush & Co., rightly, then you have to include the whole criminal gang.

    And before anyone asks, "Would McCain or Hillary have been any better?" the answer is, NO. Unequivocally no. They would have been no different. I supported Hillary because she was aces better than Obama on domestic policy, but they are all horrendous on foreign policy where Republicans and Democrats seem to share the same bloodthirsty imperialism.

    What about those who organised the war? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Andreas on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:21:38 PM EST
    The main war criminals are George Walker Bush and Richard Cheney.

    They are responsible for the war of aggression.

    Considering that DoJ found a way to (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:31:22 PM EST
    ratify and promulgate torture, and that it seems quite clear that a number of captives tortured under that "legal" "authority" were tortured to death, I remain a little surprised that they have not found a way to give Mr. Green a medal for his work.

    The only reason they are seeking to kill him is political - they want a scalp to hand to the locals.  I recall more than a few reliable articles discussing that American soliders were captured, tortured and killed as revenge for the acts Green and his buddies perpetrated.  Those soldiers were from the same unit as Green.

    The USG handing the locals Green's scalp will be intended to show that it takes human rights seriously.  Unfortunately, it would show exactly the opposite - that caprice and politics determine who lives and who dies.

    I think you could have just (none / 0) (#3)
    by Anne on Sun May 10, 2009 at 10:19:15 PM EST
    asked, "Does the Justice Department have Moral Authority?"

    Not sure I can answer that question in the affirmative.


    I'm pretty much (none / 0) (#4)
    by Socraticsilence on Sun May 10, 2009 at 10:42:13 PM EST
    unequivocally opposed to the Death Penalty, but frankly in this case- where real justice would involve Green being turned over to the Iraqi government, i have to wonder if the equation is a little different.

    That's very true. (none / 0) (#9)
    by Fabian on Mon May 11, 2009 at 05:54:05 AM EST
    If we had turned over the soldiers to stand trial in Iraq, we wouldn't be having this conversation at all.

    If that consequence had been clear from the outset, the men who committed the crimes might have had second thoughts if they knew Uncle Sam would just turn them over to the Iraqi government.

    A lot of ifs, but it appears to me that part of the reason these crimes were committed is that the people involved thought they could evade accountability.  A lack of accountability promotes bad behavior.


    Green is responsible for what he did (none / 0) (#5)
    by otherlisa on Sun May 10, 2009 at 10:55:42 PM EST
    But IMO the Bush Administration is an unindicted co-conspirator. Maybe this is fuzzy logic on my part but I feel like soldiers who participated in an illegal war do not deserve to be put to death for their actions in that war.

    I know that it's a soldier's job to serve and the fact that the war in which these soldiers was immoral and unjust doesn't take away their responsibility for the crimes they committed. But still, the death penalty, no. I am against it in any circumstances, but I have to say, I am particularly opposed to it applied to soldiers who had been placed in extremely psychologically stressful situations.

    Sick f*ckers... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Sun May 10, 2009 at 11:02:06 PM EST
    whether they went to Iraq that way or Iraq blew a fuse and turned 'em into monsters who the hell knows...its part of the reason you don't go to war and occupy...truly heinous sh*t we don't even wanna think about goes down...inevitably.  War and occupation are the gateway crimes.

    U.S. Has No Moral Authority (none / 0) (#8)
    by Nashvillemykl on Mon May 11, 2009 at 05:17:16 AM EST
    While rape and murder are heinous crimes, the U.S. has no moral authority to prosecute such offenses by its troops stationed in Iraq until a universal War Crimes Tribunal is held to examine and hold accountable for their decisions, policies and actions all involved military chain of command and civilian authorities leading up to and during our occupation of that country. In the case in question, I believe that conditions on the ground, and events involving these specific soldiers that transpired immediately before the crimes in question took place, created a collective state of mind that resulted in a deminished capacity for any of them to make what we usually consider to be moral decisions. Further, I think it is essential that all righteous Americans demand that sentences received by Steven Green and his fellow squad members be held in abeyance until such a War Crimes Tribunal investigates and passes judgement on the conduct of all involved in our occupation of Iraq..