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US soldier gets jail term for raping Iraqi girl

Sergeant Paul Cortez has been sentenced to 100 years in jail for his role in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl.

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A US soldier was sentenced on Thursday to 100 years in prison for his role in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her family.

Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, admitted he was among five soldiers who plotted the March 2006 rape and murders in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, while they were drinking gin and whiskey and playing cards at a traffic checkpoint.

Cortez was in tears as members of his 101st Airborne unit testified on his behalf ahead of sentencing on Thursday.

"I'm sorry I let you guys down, you guys treat me better than this," he said.

He also apologised to his two brothers and parents in the courtroom audience: "I love you guys, I'm sorry for what I did."

<b1>Cortez was convicted of conspiracy to rape, rape, four counts of murder, and other charges including violating a general order by drinking.

Cortez was the second soldier to plead guilty in the high-profile case, one in a series of incidents which have tarnished the reputation of US forces in Iraq.

The military judge in the court martial here first sentenced him on Thursday to life in prison without parole, as well as a dishonorable discharge.

But the judge then acknowledged that, under a plea bargain overseen by the commanding general of the 101st Airborne, Cortez could only be sentenced to 100 years imprisonment, which under military law allows the possibility of parole after 10 years.

The case shocked many by accounts that the soldiers calmly plotted to violate a young girl they had seen walking down the street in the Iraqi village and deliberately tried cover up their crime by killing her family and setting their house alight.

They decided Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi would make a good target for the plan to "have sex with an Iraqi female" because her father was the only man in the house, Cortez told a military court.

In a statement frequently interrupted by tears, Cortez described how a fellow soldier pinned the girl to the ground and held her down while he raped her.

Cortez then held al-Janabi down as an accomplice, Specialist James Barker, raped her.

Barker also avoided the death penalty as part of a plea deal last November in which he was sentenced to 90 years in prison and agreed to cooperate with prosecutions of the other soldiers.

Two other soldiers, Private First Class Jesse Spielman and Private First Class Bryan Howard, are awaiting courts-martial in the case, while a fifth, accused ringleader Steve Green, who was discharged from the army before the case came to light, will be tried in federal court at a later date.

During the trial Cortez said he heard about four or five gunshots from the bedroom where Green had taken the girl's parents, Kassem Hamza Rachid al-Janabi and Fakhriya Taha Mohsine al-Janabi and six year old sister, Hadeel Kassem Hamza al-Janabi.

"After Barker was done, Green came out of the bedroom and said he had killed them all and all of them were dead," Cortez told the court.

Cortez watched as Green raped the girl and then shot her in the head. Barker then covered her body with a blanket and tossed a lighter to one of the other soldiers who set the blanket alight. The house was soon engulfed in flames.

First Published: Feb 23, 2007 11:43 IST