Soldier pleads guilty to rape of Iraqi girl

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – A military judge yesterday approved a second U.S. soldier’s plea to the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her family.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, entered the plea Tuesday to four murders, rape and conspiracy to rape. With the approval of the plea agreement by Col. Stephen R. Henley, Cortez will avoid the death penalty.

At a hearing before Henley’s decision, Cortez broke down in tears while recounting events on the day of the attack. He described his role and the role of Spc. James P. Barker, who is already sentenced to 90 years in military prison.

“I lifted up her skirt and took off her stockings while Barker held her hands with his knees,” he said before admitting that he raped the teenager as she screamed. “After I was done, myself and Barker switched spots.”

Under terms of the agreement for Cortez’ guilty pleas, he would cooperate with prosecutors and be sentenced to life in prison, plus reduction in rank and a dishonorable discharge. Whether he would be eligible for parole would be decided at sentencing following the outcome of the court-martial on the premeditation charges.

Cortez had pleaded not guilty to separate charges of conspiracy to premeditated murder and premeditated murder, and a court-martial on those charges began yesterday evening.

In the plea agreement, read in court Tuesday, Cortez said he conspired with three other soldiers – Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Spc. James P. Barker and Steven D. Green, who has been discharged – to rape 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi.

According to the plea deal, Cortez, Spielman and Barker illegally went into the home of the girl’s family in Mahmoudiya, and Cortez held her while Barker raped her.