Although Steven Dale Green, a former US soldier, was convicted in a Kentucky court of raping and killing 14-year-old Abeer Al Janabi and murdering her family, he was spared the death penalty. Instead, Green will serve a life sentence.

In March 2006, after an afternoon of playing cards and drinking alcohol, Green and three other soldiers went to Abeer's home in Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad. Green shot and killed the teenager's mother, father and sister, then became the third soldier to rape the girl before shooting her in the face. Her body was then set on fire.

The jurors who convicted Green of rape and murder on May 7 told the judge that they couldn't agree on an appropriate sentence after deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days. Their choices were a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Since they could not unanimously agree on either sentence, life in prison had to be the verdict. Green's co-accused were convicted to varying lengths of time in prison.

The US occupation has its ways of protecting its soldiers. It also has its philosophers and godfathers, and it is only natural that they will try to protect the force's image.

However, it is unnatural for Iraqis who returned to Iraq with the invasion forces and who benefited from the change there to join the occupiers in misleading public opinion and hiding facts and truths.

Some of these people have, however, set out to justify some of the more egregious American behaviour. This group of Iraqis has called the highly professional torture carried out in Abu Ghraib 'mistreatment', while referring to other crimes, such as murder, as 'mistakes'.

Although these people are extremely eloquent in their defence of the US troops' conduct in Iraq, they have chosen to remain silent on the rapes committed by Americans, which have been exposed by humanitarian groups and committees in Iraq.

In its 2005 report, Human Rights Watch commented on the issue, while Britain's The Guardian newspaper ran an interview with an Iraqi on the subject.

The silence was broken when the news of the horrific Mahmoudiya incident came out. A poor Iraqi family had fallen prey to four US soldiers. The crime was clear, and was premeditated and unprovoked. The soldiers spent a week preparing for it.

The family's relatives testified later that Abeer was constantly complaining that the American soldiers at the checkpoint near her father's field, where she worked, were always hitting on her.

The incident shook Iraqis and the government was forced to act. Left with no other option, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki asked the Americans to withdraw protection from the four soldiers and allow the Iraqi courts to handle the case against them.

The request was rejected by US Deputy Foreign Secretary William Burns.

Prior to this incident, and a few days before the Coalition Provisional Authority handed Iraq's sovereignty back to Iraqis in 2004, Paul Bremer, the top US administrator in Iraq, issued a decree granting immunity to all US soldiers from Iraqi law.

This decree provided legal cover and protection for some extremely bizarre and humiliating conduct on the part of the occupation troops in Iraq.

In an attempt to diffuse people's anger, the Iraqi government announced that there would be a full investigation of the matter, with or without the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

When I first read about what had happened to Abeer's family, my memory took me back to the 1960s, to a movie house in Baghdad that was playing Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas. I remembered the scene where the Roman general, who was sent to put down the slaves' mutiny, stood facing Spartacus after his soldiers had raped and killed two girls.

Spartacus asks the general in anger: "Are all your women chaste to the extent that your soldiers have to rape our women?"

At the time of the Abeer incident, I wondered how US Commanding General in Iraq George Casey or John Abizaid, who is of Arab decent, would react if any Iraqi had asked them Spartacus' question.

Three years have passed since this crime was committed, while Iraqis have watched the scenario unfold. The case ended with the criminal escaping the ultimate punishment.

Iraqis regard the verdict as both sad and unfair. Meanwhile, the killers of singer Suzan Tamim - to name just one well-known example - got what they deserved in a Cairo court.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.