FORT HOOD, Texas –In his quarter-century working in military courts, the attorney for Spc. Charles Graner Jr. can count on one hand the times he has allowed a client to testify.
“My knee-jerk reaction is never to do that,” said Guy Womack, an ex-Marine Corps lawyer.
But he may make an exception for Graner, the Army reservist accused of leading the much-publicized abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
He says Graner, whose trial begins with opening statements today, can explain better than anyone else just what went on inside the notorious Baghdad prison.
“He is a calm, cool professional. He’s very articulate, very bright,” Womack said of the one-time prison guard from Uniontown, Pa. “Frankly, I don’t know anyone else in the case who can articulate everything as well as he can, so that would be a strong reason for him to testify.
“It would be a catharsis for (Graner) to take the stand and say, ‘I want to tell you what happened, and what I was doing and why,”’ Womack said. “I think there’s a very strong reason why he would want to do that and a strong reason for me to want him to do it.”
Graner, 36, is charged with conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts. He is the first person to be tried for alleged acts that occurred at Abu Ghraib.
He seemed in a good mood after an all-male jury of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men was selected Friday to decide his fate in what is expected to be a weeklong trial. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 17 1/2 years in a military prison.
“The sun is shining, the sky is blue and this is America,” Graner said outside a Fort Hood courthouse. “Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it’s going to be on the positive side, and I’m going to have a smile on my face.”
Under military law, a conviction requires guilty votes by seven of the 10 jurors. All the jurors have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Abu Ghraib scandal was ignited by the discovery of graphic photographs showing the treatment of detainees in the prison, and Graner is prominent in a number of them.
In one, a smiling Graner is giving a thumbs-up behind a pile of naked Iraqis. In another he is cocking his fist as if to punch a hooded prisoner.
Among the witnesses arrayed against him are three fellow members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company who have reached plea deals with Army prosecutors.
Sgt. Joseph Darby, who first reported the alleged abuse, also is scheduled to appear. As many as three Iraqi detainees may testify via videotaped deposition.
Womack plans to argue that Graner was told by higher-ranking soldiers and intelligence agents to rough up the detainees prior to interrogation, and that he had no choice but to obey despite personal misgivings.
On a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Womack said Graner often complained up his chain of command about what he was being told to do.
“They always told him he was doing a good job, that it was helping the war effort, and that he was to continue following the orders of military intelligence,” the attorney said.
Womack said the photos are not proof Graner committed crimes. If the orders he was given were lawful or if he didn’t know they were unlawful, the jury must acquit, he said.
“Personally I feel the orders were all lawful,” Womack said, who called the incriminating photos an expression of dark humor. “He’s not charged with smiling wrongfully. He’s not charged with raising a thumb. That’s not a crime.”
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