Abu Ghraib Guards Were Scapegoats, U.S. Lawyers Say

Wired News

By Jon Herskovitz

December 04, 2004

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Two military guards implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal in Iraq were good soldiers caught in a muddled chain of command at a chaotic prison, their lawyers said at the start of pretrial hearings on Saturday. Lawyers for Sgt. Javal Davis and Spec. Sabrina Harman said there was a breakdown of leadership and that their clients were scapegoats for the failures of a system that reached through the highest levels of the military bureaucracy and the Bush administration.

That same system also allowed for the abuse of prisoners in order to extract intelligence information, they said.

Lawyers for Davis won a decision from Judge James Pohl to call Janis Karpinski, the brigadier general formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib, and said they hoped Karpinski's testimony would confirm the disorganized conditions at the prison and the lack of proper training for the guards.

Davis faces eight years in prison on charges including maltreating detainees, dereliction of duty and assaulting prisoners by stomping on the toes and fingers of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in a human pyramid.

Charges against Harman have yet to be finalized but will likely include indecency and the mistreatment of prisoners.

Harman is known as the woman in one of the notorious photographs of the abuse standing near Spec. Charles Graner -- who faces a pretrial hearing on Monday at the same central Texas Army base -- giving a "thumbs up" sign behind a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners.

"She is being prosecuted because she was in some picture. That seems to be the driving force in this thing," Frank Spinner, a lawyer for Harman, told reporters after the hearing. He added that of the seven soldiers from the Army's 372 Military Police Company charged in the case, his client had the least culpability in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Lawyers for Davis said their case rested on proving the guards were following procedures laid out by higher-ups.

"Our case will rise or fall on the demands placed (on them) for retrievable intelligence," Paul Bergrin, an attorney for Davis said in court.

Lawyers for the military were not allowed to speak about details of the cases with reporters.

The three facing trial at Fort Hood are among the seven military police and one intelligence officer who have been charged over the affair. In November, the U.S. military said the three court martials would be moved from Iraq to the United States, without citing a reason for the move.

Graner is suspected of being the ringleader behind the abuses and was present at the pretrial hearings of his former colleagues in Iraq. He is expected to face an array of charges including conspiracy to mistreat prisoners and indecent acts.

Graner's trial is likely to start near Jan 7, while Judge Pohl said Davis's trial is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 2 and Harman's for March 30.

The scandal erupted in April when photographs depicting U.S. soldiers taunting and humiliating naked prisoners became public, sparking worldwide condemnation.

In November, military officials said Army Spec. Megan Ambuhl had pleaded guilty to one count of dereliction of duty, and was spared her prison time. Two other soldiers from the 372nd have also pleaded guilty including Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick and Spec. Jeremy Sivits.

Spec. Armin Cruz, a military intelligence officer, pleaded guilty in September to maltreatment of detainees and was sentenced to eight months in prison.

The final member of the 372nd facing trial in the scandal is PFC. Lynndie England. She recently gave birth to a son likely fathered by Graner.

England is known as the woman in photographs who held a prisoner by a dog leash and gave a "thumbs up" gesture while pointing to a prisoner's genitals.

She will stand trial next month at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.













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