This post has been updated. See below for details.
It was one of the most disturbing war crimes to emerge from the brutal conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. Army Pfc. Steven Dale Green raped and killed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl in 2006 after shooting and killing her parents and younger sister. Then he and his combat buddies from a nearby U.S. Army checkpoint set the girl’s corpse on fire.
Green, 28, serving five life sentences, apparently has committed suicide eight years after the crimes. He was found hanging in his cell at the federal maximum security prison in Tucson last week and died Saturday, prison officials announced Tuesday.
They said Green’s death was being investigated as an apparent suicide.
A prison spokesman, John Stahley, declined to provide details, including whether Green left a note.
Asked why authorities had waited this long to announce his death, Stahley said the prison’s administrative staff was off during the three-day Presidents Day weekend. He said Green’s family was notified Saturday.
[Updated 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18: Green’s civilian lawyer, Darren Wolff, told The Times that it was his understanding that Green had recently been placed into protective segregation after a dispute between him and other inmates.
Wolff said he last heard from Green when the former soldier sent him a letter, within the last two months. Green gave no indication that he was depressed or under duress, Wolff said. Green was looking forward to a visit last week from a documentary filmmaker, he said.
Green’s death "adds another tragedy to a long list of tragedies that already existed in this case," Wolff said. "It’s another indication of how horrific this case has been for everyone involved."]
Green was a 19-year-old college dropout when he joined the Army and deployed to Iraq. At the traffic checkpoint, near the Iraqi town of Mahmoudiya, he and fellow soldiers abused alcohol and drugs and came up with a plan to have sex with the Iraqi girl, Abeer Kassem Hamza Janabi, according to court testimony. They had watched her from the checkpoint as she performed household chores.
According to testimony at his federal trial in Kentucky, Green was brought along to the girl’s home because he had spoken of wanting to kill Iraqis. A group of five soldiers entered the home on March 12, 2006, while a sixth stood guard at the checkpoint.
Two soldiers took the girl into a room and raped her while Green held the teenager’s father, Kassem Hamza Raheem, 45; her mother, Fakhriya Taha Muhasen, 34; and 6-year-old sister, Hadeel Kassem Hamza, at gunpoint in another room.
As Abeer was being gang-raped, Green shot all three family members, according to testimony. He then raped Abeer. When he had finished, he shot her in the head. The soldiers fled, but not before burning the girl’s body. The killings occurred in an area nicknamed the "Triangle of Death" by some U.S. service members because of multiple American casualties at the hands of insurgents.
Green did not testify at his trial, but during his sentencing in 2009 he apologized for the crimes and said he expected to face "God’s justice" when he died. Federal prosecutors had sought the death sentence, but a jury instead sentenced him to five life terms. Four other soldiers were convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the killings, but Green remained the public face of the horrific crimes.
He was tried in federal court because the soldiers’ role in the killings was not discovered until after he had been discharged for an "antisocial personality disorder." Several soldiers tried to cover up the killings by blaming insurgents, according to testimony.
Green was initially sent to a federal prison in Indiana but was transferred to Arizona after he was reportedly attacked in prison. He arrived at the Tucson facility in February 2010.
In a December 2010 interview from prison with the Associated Press, Green blamed his behavior, in part, on the deaths of two fellow soldiers killed by insurgents near the checkpoint. Those deaths "messed me up real bad," he said.
He also blamed the Army, which he said had abandoned him and the rest of his unit at the checkpoint.
"There’s not a word that would describe how much I hated these people," Green said of Iraqis. "I wasn’t thinking these people were humans."
The day of the rapes and killings, Green said, he was in an "altered state of mind."
"I wasn’t thinking about more than 10 minutes into the future at any given time,’’ he said. "I didn’t care."
Green said he had converted to Catholicism in prison. He described his prison existence as "hazardous" because other inmates considered him a child molester and a target for reprisal.
He expressed regret for the killings, telling the AP, "If I thought that was an OK thing now, I wouldn’t be much of a human being.’’
Green’s civilian lawyer and federal public defender did not respond to several requests for comment. Stahley said Green’s family would be permitted to claim his body after the investigation of his death was completed.