There used to be certain rules amongst men that set them apart from the ‘savagery’ of other men. There also used to be a veil of blissful ignorance where some people lived out their daily lives not knowing or caring what happened on the other side of the world. Till one day they awoke to find the whole mess in their own backyard and women and children became fair game; however the rest of the world already knew women and children had always been so in times of war.
In March of 2006 Steve Greene, Jesse Spielman, Paul Cortez and James Barker were members of the 101st Airborne Division deployed in Mahmudiya, Iraq. Together they plotted to invade the home of the al-Janabi family where Greene raped 14 year old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and then shot her. They killed her mother, her father and her 5 year old sister and as a team they proceeded to burn the house and bodies to cover up their crimes.
Women and children have always been subject to the atrocities of war, they bear the brunt of it, and the notion that we are somehow off limits is born out of romantic propaganda fantasy and the sort of thing we tell ourselves and our children in order to sleep better at night. For some of us it was where we lived and worked, knee deep in shit, blood and fear alongside the trails of mess soldiers leave behind; murder, rape and mutilation.
Yes soldiers are just men after all but at the same time they aren’t – it is paradoxical existence where one must individually be part of a larger group that at best is an example to the world the virtuous standard of their homeland; So far removed of common sense is the idea that if you invade my country you had better be better than the system/people you displace.
I had a different life and blog back then, a sexual political sort of read that had a good following and though the western world might have only caught a glimpse of this story months after it happened, those in country knew of it right away – and we waited, and waited, and waited. Well I got tired of waiting and I wrote a scathing review of the facts and what I thought of the American Military in general.
I hold no soldier in high regard simply based on rank or because he has a flag patch on his chest; men of worth are only worthy through their actions. I have no military fetish, I have no yellow ribbon on my car, nor do I believe that a soldier is above the laws in which he operates simply because he has seen things civilians have not; I have seen things too but I managed to survive without committing a crime.
Then I got a comment from a fellow blogger, he too wrote a blog because he was a retired member of the 101st Airborne Division and knows the realities of war. This is how I became introduced to my husband D – we had been blogging on the same site for years bumping up against each other – and for a good while we virtually debated the realities of such offenses and in closing one day he said ‘Fear not Pyx, someone will get him and you can take that to the bank’ When opportunity arose and I got the chance to meet D, well the rest is history I guess. He likes to joke that I only married him to win the argument but really we are the only two that have won anything from this horrific tale.
Greene died this week, hung himself they say. My husband patted me on the back and said ‘see, I told you’ and I hope he is right that someone got him in the end. This story has been with me since it happened in March of 2006 and I never expected to hear of it again, it left the consciousness of so many but I walked around with it my pocket alongside so many others stories; each one equally as heavy and dark as the next. However the fact that Greene is dead is only a footnote, the story is still something I am going to carry with me.
I surprised myself because when I read the news I was happy, throughout the day I was positively jubilant: it was my birthday and I felt I could not have gotten a better a gift of news. I fantasized that while he was in prison he too was subject to humiliation, rape, and torture though I am not convinced he suffered enough. Had I known he was in a state facility I would have written him, often, to prolong and aid in his suffering – if only I could find his Airborne mates I would help them along too.
Jesse Spielman, Paul Cortez and James Barker got somewhere between five and eight years – up for parole next year – and I was reminded how much I hate the military court system. I am not a fan of the death penalty by any means, at least not the way it is done here, but I know something about the desire for revenge and vigilante justice. But you see what I just wrote is pretty much what any soldier committing murder or a crime would say, feel or believe is just. Revenge is a horrible part of the cycle in war: you killed my buddy so I am going to wipe out your whole family. As it is in life some people can handle certain situations and some cannot; at this particular time in the effort again terrorism we let that priority slip for the sake of filling the ranks with lesser men.
The difference is I didn’t sign up to drape myself in a flag and craptastic patriocity speak (yes I make up words) by become all I could be, the best of the best, and to carry a gun in a role of power – there are still innocent people trying to live where horrible things take place and I chose my role differently – and then to abuse my authority by subjugating others; especially the innocent seems contrary to the role but alas it is just one part of human nature. I just happen to believe that a justice system is important to our civic identity, as I am subject to it, so should they be here and abroad.
You need not educate me on the realities of war, group mentally or the fact that one bad apple can spoil the bunch – nor the legal systems in which we are bound or not internationally -I do not lack the education or sympathy. Greene was right when he said “I was made to pay for all the war crimes. I’m the only one here in federal prison. I’m not a victim, but I haven’t been treated fairly” because out there Jesse Spielman, Paul Cortez and James Barker will soon be free to go about their daily lives never getting got.
The al-Janabi family is worth remembering and this is how I met my husband, it is not a romantic story and having coffee over the dead is not a common way to meet someone but not so strange is how we are all connected even though it happened over there.