Steven Green, the first American soldier charged and convicted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, died from attempting suicide at the Tucson federal maximum security prison in mid-February.
Green was serving multiple life sentences for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and young sister when he was stationed in Iraq in 2006. Along with four other soldiers, one of whom stood guard, Green sexually assaulted the teenager and then shot her parents, younger sister and eventually Abeer herself.
In an attempt to hide their crime, the soldiers burned her body and blamed the attack on Sunni insurgents, a lie which hid their actions until fellow Private Justin Watt informed a psychologist during health counseling session.While the other four soldiers directly involved in the crime, James Barker, Paul Cortez, Jesse Spielman and Bryan Howard received lengthy sentences in military prisons, most upwards of a century, Green’s sentencing was unique in the fact that the charge came after his honorable discharge from the military due to a diagnosed antisocial personality disorder.
Because of his discharge, prosecutors were able to charge him under a 2000 law that gave federal government jurisdiction to pursue criminal cases against United States citizens and soldiers for acts committed in foreign countries.
According to the Justice Department, the law allows prosecutors to establish Federal jurisdiction over offenses committed outside the United States by persons employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces, or by members of the Armed Forces who are released or separated from active duty prior to being identified and prosecution for the commission of such offenses.
While this law may provide some comfort to victims of the Armed Forces, it does little to address the conditions that may have spurned the crime in the first place.
At the time of the Qassim al-Janabi family murder, the American soldiers stationed near their home lived in a remote area known at the “Triangle of Death,” near Mahmudiha, so christened by U.S. servicemen because of the large number of American casualties.
During an interview with the Associate Press, Green expressed how the deaths of his comrades affected him and “messed me up real bad,” he said.
He dehumanized Iraqis to such a point that “[he] wasn’t thinking these people were humans.”
Green’s crime, conviction and death illustrate an ongoing problem experienced by organizations working abroad. While Green’s assault and killings occurred while employed as a U.S. military employee, his actions not only impact the military but also negatively impact other efforts made by humanitarian organizations operating internationally.
Past acts of military malfeasance have already maligned America’s reputation abroad, a recent example being the U.S.’ subterfuge involving an ersatz vaccination doctor in Pakistan. Under the guise of routine examinations and with the help of a local Pakistani doctor, military personnel verified Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts at the expense of future humanitarian efforts in the country.
Regardless of the merits of their operation, the military’s ruse has unquestionably gravely damaged America’s reputation in Pakistan. Now, World Health Organization vaccination teams increasingly face violent confrontations from Taliban insurgents. As one of the world’s most endemic regions to polio, stunted vaccinations may potentially lead to the virus’s resurgence around the globe.
Government inability to address these issues will lead to even greater repercussions for U.S. and many western-associated humanitarian organizations. While the Military Extradiction and Jurisdiction Act may provide additional security in holding ex-military personnel responsible for their crimes, it does little to address the issues that created, and lead to, his crimes in the first place. Instead of creating laws that punish violent behavior, programs and procedures should be established to prevent potential crimes committed abroad, thereby protecting possible victims and also ensuring that other humanitarian efforts may continue unimpeded.
– Emily Bajet
Sources: TIME, Los Angeles Times, United States Department of Justice
Photo: Nick Mooney