Steven Dale Green, a former army private who committed one of the most heinous acts of the Iraq War, died by hanging in his prison cell at the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson over the weekend. His death appears to have been a suicide. He was twenty-eight-years-old.
I have written about Green in this space before. In March of 2006 he and three other soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division gang-raped a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl before killing her, her six-year-old sister, and their parents. They later burned the body of the rape victim.
By the time the soldiers' involvement in the crimes came to light later that year, Steven Green had left the military. He was subsequently arrested, tried, and found guilty in a federal court in Paducah, Kentucky, while his three accomplices were found guilty in military courts-martials. Green was sentenced to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole. The other three were sentenced to confinement in a military prison (Ft. Leavenworth) for terms of 90, 100, and 110 years - with an ultimate possibility of parole in all three cases.
By all accounts, Steven Green was the gunman who killed each of the four family members. As late as last year, Green complained in an interview that he had been treated differently than the other three because he would have no opportunity for parole.
There was no possibility of light at the end of his tunnel.
Steven Green was a product of Texas, a state that is often accused of valuing guns over education. His parents divorced when he was four, and he spent the next several years being shuffled between different relatives and living circumstances. As an adolescent he moved to Midland, Texas, an oil-boom community that has a stark class divide. (George W. Bush grew up in Midland: Green and his family were at the other end of the social order.) He dropped out of high school in tenth grade, a fact that posed some difficulties when Green set out to join the military a few years later. He eventually found an army recruiter who bent a few rules to get him in.
Green, an infantry soldier, was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and he eventually deployed from that base to Iraq. I was at Ft. Campbell in 2005, the same year that Steven Green was stationed there, but our paths never crossed. Everyone who lived and worked in that environment, however, had some sense of the impact that those massive and long deployments were having on the morale and mental health of the troops.
In March of 2006, Steven Green and his three accomplices were serving in an area of Iraq called the "Triangle of Death." One of the group had apparently spotted the 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was destined to become their target victim while working at a roadside checkpoint. On March 14th, the four soldiers sat around drinking and talking about sex. They formed a plan to go to the girl's home where they would commit rape and murder.
Steven Green was arrested later that year as a civilian, and he was tried in Federal Court in 2009. He had essentially been behind bars since 2006.
There were strong similarities between Steven Green and Levi King (also mentioned previously in this space). Both young men committed horrible, unspeakable acts - and both also grew up in bleak circumstances that undoubtedly had strong influences on the men they became. I knew Levi as a child and adolescent and had a clear idea of the forces that had shaped his life. I didn't know Steven Green, but being enmeshed in the 101st Airborne Division at the height of the Iraq War, I also felt some familiarity with the life he was leading.
This past holiday season I sent a Christmas card to Steven Green who, at the time, was a fellow Arizonan. I told him in the card that I had been at Ft. Campbell while he was there, and I wished him peace. I didn't ask for a reply or expect one. But a few weeks later he did respond. His hand-written reply gave a a brief insight into the life he was living behind bars, and he invited me to write to him. I did not intend to publish his communication, but since he is deceased, I will include it in this forum for the historical record. (Green's letter was postmarked January 15, 2014 - exactly one month to the day before he died. I did send a reply a day or two later, but he never answered.)
Here is the text Steven Dale Green's letter:
Thank you for your Christmas card. It means a lot to me that you would take the time to send me a card when you don't have to and I want you to know that I really appreciate it. I hope you had a good Christmas yourself and that you have a new year filled with peace, grace, and blessings.
My circumstances are rough sometimes (right now I am in the hole and they are talking about transferring me, which would not be good), but in the end I have to do this time myself one way or the other and I have no choice in the matter. I have to be thankful for those blessings I do have, such as your card. So, thank you again.
If you ever want to write, feel free. I will write you back. If not, that's okay too. Either way I appreciate it.
P.S. Sorry I took so long to respond.
May you be resting in peace, Steven.