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Spielman's verdict leaves key questions unanswered

August 07, 2007

When Pfc. Jesse Spielman addressed the jury last week, he didn't offer any alibis or excuses for his role in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the deaths of her family members.

"I don't really blame my chain of command. I don't really blame anybody. I could have stopped it. I take responsibility for my actions," he said.

Spielman, a 2002 graduate of Chambersburg (Pa.) Area High School was accused of acting as a lookout as other soldiers raped an Iraqi girl, killed her family and then burned her body to cover up the crime.

Based on his own admission and the testimony of others involved in the crimes, we know what happened.

"Why" is another question and we hope that armed forces officials are looking into that.

In July, Pfc. Thomas Doss, one member of Spielman's unit, testified that after they stopped three detainees, Spielman said he didn't care if they lived or died.

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Doss testified that Spielman said, "They will either support insurgents or breed insurgents. I want them dead."

In August, Maj. Alex Pickands, an Army prosecutor, told the court that the unit's discipline had begun to unravel while its members were stationed in a violent area south of Baghdad known as the "Triangle of Death."

Dan Christensen, one of Spielman's defense attorneys, said that every person who was involved in the killings had been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Christensen also claimed that after seeing dozens of their comrades killed, the soldiers were drinking and had received drugs from a combat stress team.

Attempts to make comparisons between the war in Vietnam and the current war in Iraq often fail because they don't take many things into account - the differences between a fighting force of draftees and the current all-volunteer military.

But there is one similarity that would be hard to deny. In Iraq, the enemy does not wear distinctive uniforms. A shopkeeper or farmer might also be one of the insurgents or provide support to them.

Seeing friends killed by roadside bombs placed by a person who might never be captured would undoubtedly be a major source of stress.

But for every unit such as Spielman's, in which discipline broke down and morals were abandoned, there are many more whose members have served honorably.

The questions then are these: What made the difference in this case? What turned a trained, disciplined unit of U.S. soldiers into a group of rapists and murderers?

Finding that answer won't help Spielman, but it might help prevent the next batch of stressed-out soldiers from forgetting everything that they were taught, by the armed forces their families.

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