January 16, 2005 in Nation/World

Guard: Abuse part of his job

T.R. Reid Washington Post
 

FORT HOOD, Texas – Former Army prison guard Charles A. Graner Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in a military stockade Saturday for his role in abusing Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, an episode that sparked a wave of anti-American indignation around the world last spring.

The 10-member military jury passed sentence three hours after hearing Graner deliver an unsworn presentencing statement, not subject to cross-examination, in which he said that superior officers instructed him to take actions at the prison that he knew would “violate the Geneva Conventions.”

Graner spent more than two hours laying out an often harrowing tale of a chaotic, Dickensian prison where the rules of permissible conduct were constantly changing and most guards were young reservists with little or no training. At one point, he showed the jury a copy of the Army’s “ROE,” or “Rules of Engagement,” which spelled out four steps of increasing severity for guards to use in controlling unruly inmates: “Shout, Shove, Show (a weapon), Shoot.”

Graner also said cell block “One-Alpha” at the crumbling, overcrowded Army prison housed a number of so-called ghost detainees – prisoners held with no written records, so that International Red Cross inspectors would not be aware of them.

His statement added new details about what Graner understood his superiors wanted him to do, but it conformed with the overall picture of widespread abuse and inept management at the Abu Ghraib prison that military investigators and prosecutors have alleged in reports and testimony.

On Friday, Graner was convicted on five charges of assault, maltreatment and conspiracy stemming from the prison scandal.

Having waived his right to testify under oath at his trial, when he would have faced a prosecutor’s cross-examination, Graner chose instead to address the jury before sentencing. In addition to the 10-year prison term, out of a possible maximum of 15 years, the jury reduced Graner in rank and gave him a dishonorable discharge.

The 36-year-old reservist identified by the Army as the ringleader of the rogue guards at Abu Ghraib reiterated what other witnesses had said during his weeklong trial: that numerous senior officers condoned the beatings and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

President Bush has said that the prison abuses were strictly the fault of a handful of junior enlisted soldiers.

On the night shift at One-Alpha, Graner said, the Army assigned two low-ranking reservists to guard 80 to 100 prisoners, ranging from common criminals to veteran terrorists. He showed a picture of the guards’ cell block “office” – a closet-size space surrounded by sandbags to protect against the guns and grenades that he said were regularly smuggled to the prisoners.

Graner said the guards were told to “terrorize” the inmates to make it easier for CIA agents and military intelligence officers to question them.

“They would say … give this prisoner 30 seconds to eat,” Graner recalled. “It’s pitch black in your cell. I shine a light in your eyes to blind you. I haul you out, naked, and I hand you the (packed lunch) and the whole time you’re trying to eat I’m screaming at you. Then time’s up. ‘We gave you the opportunity to eat. You just didn’t eat.’ ”

Graner worked as a Marine military policeman and as a guard at Pennsylvania’s Greene State Correctional Institution before shipping out to Iraq with the Army Reserve. He boasted Saturday about his expertise as a corrections officer, both civilian and military.

“I know the Geneva Conventions, better than anyone else in my company,” Graner said. “And we were called upon to violate the Geneva Conventions.”

The Conventions, an international treaty covering treatment of prisoners in war zones, have been a subject of hot debate recently. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales advised the president that the United States could legally ignore the treaty in certain circumstances.

Critics in Congress, legal and military circles have contended that this advice filtered down through the chain of command and contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Last month, Bush nominated Gonzales to be attorney general.

Graner named a series of Army officers, ranking from lieutenant to full colonel, who gave orders, he said, to mistreat prisoners – particularly those described as “intelligence holds” who were believed to have information about the Iraqi insurgency that grew up after the fall of Baghdad.

Those he named included Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade in charge of the prison; Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the senior military intelligence officer; Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd Military Police Company; Capt. Christopher Brinson, platoon leader; and 1st Lt. Lewis Raeder, platoon leader in the military police command.

Several of the officers he named were also cited in sworn testimony during Graner’s trial, the first full-scale court-martial stemming from the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Witnesses in Graner’s court-martial said that Jordan was a regular visitor to Graner’s cell block and was aware of all the abuses that led to the criminal charges. The Army says Jordan is under investigation.

Graner’s lawyer, Guy Womack, complained bitterly during the trial that the Army had not called any of the officers who were at the prison to testify.

“The unanswered question,” Womack said after the verdict was announced, “is why won’t the Army punish any of the officers who were responsible?”

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi officials said Saturday they are considering new measures to protect voters in the Jan. 30 national election, including a three-day, nationwide ban on driving to discourage car-bombings.

Fresh clashes broke out in the troubled northern city of Mosul, where most election officials have fled their jobs in fear.

A U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing in Mosul after drawing ground fire, the U.S. command said. And a U.S. Marine was killed in action Saturday in a tense area just south of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials fear a surge in insurgent attacks as the election approaches. Many members of the Sunni Arab minority are expected to boycott the balloting, and Sunni rebel groups have threatened to attack polling stations.

To prevent that, an Iraqi Cabinet minister told reporters that authorities are considering a number of special measures, including restrictions on the movement of private vehicles, and possible security cordons around polling stations.

Provincial Affairs minister Waeil Abdel-Latif gave no details about the proposed restrictions, but security officials said they included banning all private vehicle traffic across the country for three days around the election.

That would make it easier to spot would-be vehicle bombers and to inhibit rebel movements.

“The government is determined to make available facilities and security guarantees to ensure the success of the election,” Abdel-Latif said.

Underscoring the security threat, fresh clashes broke out Saturday in Mosul between U.S. troops and insurgents after the rebels blasted an American convoy.

After the blast, insurgents opened fire on American troops, who then raided a nearby agricultural research station looking for the assailants.

A U.S. Army OH58 Kiowa helicopter made an emergency landing in Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, after receiving ground fire. The two crew members escaped injury, the command said.


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