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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Stress 'no excuse in Iraq case'
Charred and blood-spattered wall inside family home where attack occurred
The soldiers are alleged to have killed the family in their home
Prosecutors at a US military hearing have dismissed claims that combat stress might have led US troops to massacre an Iraqi family.

The hearing, to decide if four accused soldiers should be court-martialled, had earlier been told how the strain of war had driven the men's unit "nuts".

But lawyer Capt Alex Pickands said the alleged acts could not be excused.

The soldiers face charges of rape and murder over the incident in the town of Mahmudiya in March.

Spc James P Barker, Sgt Paul Cortez, Pte Jesse Spielman, and Pte Bryan Howard are alleged to have helped a former private - Steven Green, who has since left the army - plan, carry out and cover up the attack.

Mr Green has pleaded not guilty in a federal court and will be tried separately in the US.

'Death walk'

During the hearing, which began on Sunday, colleagues of the accused described how troops were demoralised, emotionally drained and exhausted by frequent attacks from insurgents in the so-called Triangle of Death.

They gathered together over cards and booze and came up with a plan
Capt Alex Pickands,
"You're just walking a death walk," Pfc Justin Cross said on Tuesday. "It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up."

Pfc Cross said the deaths of two soldiers from the accused's unit "pretty much crushed the platoon", some of whom turned to whiskey and painkillers to relieve the stress.

In his interview statement, which was read to the hearing on Monday, Spc Barker told how, on the day of the attack, the soldiers had been drinking when Mr Green said he "wanted to go to a house and kill some Iraqis".

The accused went to a house about 200 metres (219 yards) away, where a 14-year-old girl was raped and shot dead, along with her parents and younger sister.

In his closing argument, Spc Barker's lawyer, David Sheldon, said "When you put an individual like [Mr Green] in a stressful situation, he becomes a canister of gas waiting to explode."

'Not war'

However Capt Pickands said the case had nothing to do with the stress of war.

"Murder, not war. Rape, not war. That's what we're here talking about today," he told the hearing.

"Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old girl.

"They gathered together over cards and booze and came up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl," he said.

If court-martialled and found guilty, the accused could face the death penalty.

A fifth soldier, Sgt Anthony W Yribe, is alleged to have lied to cover up for his colleagues.

The hearing continues.

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