Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Central Figure in Iraq Abuse Goes on Trial

The New York Times
January 11, 2005
Central Figure in Iraq Abuse Goes on Trial

FORT HOOD, Tex., Jan. 10 - Prosecutors unveiled new graphic photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib prison on Monday as they tried to portray the soldier accused as the ringleader of the abuse scandal there as a sadistic thug who punched detainees for sport, posed smiling next to the bloody face of a detainee and bragged about forcing an Iraqi woman to let him photograph her naked.

In opening arguments here at the court-martial for the soldier, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., his lawyers insisted that he was simply following orders and using lessons from his civilian life as a prison guard to try to maintain discipline in a war zone. Using naked and hooded detainees to make a human pyramid was much like what cheerleaders "all over America" do at football games, the lawyer, Guy Womack, argued, and putting naked prisoners on leashes was much like what parents in airports do with their toddlers.

"They're not being abused," Mr. Womack told the jury of 10 soldiers, "they're being kept in control."

But prosecutors called soldiers who testified that Specialist Graner had laughed and joked as detainees moaned, screamed and begged him to stop beating them.

A source close to the case said prosecutors had discovered more than 2,000 e-mail messages that Specialist Graner had sent home, sometimes attaching pictures of detainees and boasting about how he had disciplined them, suggesting one had been "a real upper body workout." In none of those e-mail messages did he mention being ordered to commit any of the abusive acts, the source said.

The prosecutor, Maj. Michael Holley, said, "There was a lot wrong at Abu Ghraib," adding, "There were training problems, there were logistics problems, there were certainly leadership problems."

Still, Major Holley told the jury, "What we're presenting to you is the serious misconduct that anyone would say, 'That's illegal, that's beyond the pale, there's no way anyone would say that's right.' "

Specialist Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from the 372nd Military Police Company based in Maryland, faces up to 17 and a half years in prison on several counts of assault, maltreatment, dereliction of duty and indecent acts stemming from the scandal that broke last spring with the publication of humiliating photographs of detainees. The scandal set off high-level military investigations that have exposed a wider range of mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But the question of who authorized such treatment remains largely unanswered.

Witnesses here testified that commanders and military intelligence soldiers had authorized harsh treatment like keeping detainees chained to railings all night to force them to stay awake. Pvt. Ivan L. Frederick II, one of four soldiers who has accepted a plea agreement in the Abu Ghraib case, testified that he asked military police from the unit the 372nd replaced why detainees were naked and handcuffed, or wearing women's underwear on their heads. He said he was told that it was the way things were done.

Even Specialist Graner asked superiors whether it was right to handcuff detainees to a railing to keep them awake, Private Frederick testified. But the military police were told that if military intelligence asked for "sleep management," it was fine, he said. Describing instructions for sleep management from one military intelligence soldier, Private Frederick testified: "He told me, 'I don't care what you do, just don't kill him.' "

Still, Private Frederick and other soldiers testified, commanders did not know about the kind of treatment shown in the photographs and would not have sanctioned it.

Several soldiers described their alarm as they watched the abuse unfold, particularly on one evening that began with several soldiers running and jumping into a pile of detainees.

"It made me kind of sick, almost; I didn't know what to do," said one, Specialist Matthew Wisdom, who has not been charged. "It just didn't seem right."

Describing how Specialist Graner punched a detainee in the temple so hard that it knocked him unconscious, Specialist Wisdom said, "If I was that detainee, I know that would have been very painful."

Photographs of detainees being mistreated were shown on a large screen in the courtroom, occasionally remaining for several minutes as witnesses narrated them.

"He walked over to the detainee that had 'I'm a rapist' written on his leg and punched the detainee in the temple, sir," Pvt. Jeremy Sivits, who is serving a year in prison for taking photographs of the abuse, testified about Specialist Graner. "And then he kind of shook his hand and said, 'Ow. Damn, that hurt.' "

Private Sivits said the detainees had not posed any threat. "The detainee just kind of shook and lay there on the floor," he said. "He just kind of moved his feet and lay there."

Explaining a new video that shows a detainee writhing as Private Sivits tries to cut off a pair of handcuffs, he said Specialist Graner had attached them so tightly, the detainee's hands were turning purple. "I personally thought he was going to lose his hands," he said.

Another new photograph taken by Specialist Graner showed a 19-year-old Iraqi woman exposing her breasts. Private Sivits said that Specialist Graner said he had tried to photograph her pubic area but that she would not let him.

Asked to explain photos of detainees masturbating, Private Frederick said Specialist Graner "said it was a present for our birthday." Soldiers also said commanders explicitly told them not to take photographs.

Mr. Womack, Specialist Graner's lawyer, said that the photos were part of a plan to force information from detainees and that government officials blamed his client only after the pictures set off outrage around the world.

Over and over, he said, military intelligence complimented Specialist Graner. "The M.I.'s and other folks came to him and said, 'You're doing a great job, keep it up,' " Mr. Womack said. The jury, all men, listened intently to the testimony. Specialist Graner betrayed little emotion inside the courtroom but smiled and joked outside. Walking in Monday morning, he told reporters: "We're going to find out what kind of a monster I am today."