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Prosecutors Detail Sexual Violence in Abu Ghraib Prison

from The Chicago Tribune

Jan. 11--FT. HOOD, Texas--Military prosecutors presented new evidence Monday of sexual depravity, sadism and violence orchestrated by U.S. soldiers inside a high-security tier of Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison as they opened their case against Army Spec. Charles Graner, the alleged instigator of much of the abuse.

Witnesses testified that they saw Graner, a military policeman from the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, punch a hooded Iraqi detainee in the head, knocking him unconscious, and beat another wounded Iraqi with a baton.

They said he arranged naked Iraqis into a human pyramid and participated in forcing one prisoner to masturbate as a "birthday present" to his girlfriend, Pfc. Lynndie England, a fellow soldier who also faces abuse charges.

Prosecutors also showed a video they said Graner filmed of an apparently mentally ill Iraqi prisoner who had smeared himself with feces and was smashing his head into a wall.

"When I came to the tier, what I saw, it didn't look right, it didn't look normal, and it didn't look like something an MP would do," testified Army Spec. Matthew Wisdom, the prosecution's opening witness.

Wisdom, who was stationed elsewhere at the prison, said he came upon one incident in which Graner was among several guards who were roughing up detainees on Nov. 7, 2003, and reported it to his supervisor.

"It made me kind of sick almost," Wisdom said, recounting how he saw Graner pose for a picture poised to strike the hooded detainee and then, after the picture was snapped, knocked the man unconscious.

But the supervisor, Staff Sgt. Robert Jones, testified that he failed to report the situation to higher authorities.

Graner, 36, faces up to 171/2 years in prison if convicted on charges of assault, mistreating detainees, dereliction of duty, conspiracy and committing indecent acts.

Prosecutors led a series of witnesses--three of them Graner's colleagues who have pleaded guilty to participating in the --through graphic descriptions of beatings and sexual humiliations in the prison in late 2003.

On an overhead screen they showed the all-male jury of 10 Army officers and senior enlistees dozens of photographs of naked and wounded Iraqi prisoners taken by Graner and other guards. Some of the photos were first publicized last spring, triggering the public scandal.

"It was a very chaotic environment" inside the prison, Maj. Michael Holley, the lead prosecutor, said in his opening statement. But, he added, "we're presenting to you serious misconduct that anyone would say, 'That's illegal, that's beyond the pale.'"

Graner's civilian defense attorney, Guy Womack, countered in his opening statement that Graner had followed the orders of military intelligence officers to "soften up" detainees for interrogation.

Moreover, Womack said, pictures that appeared to portray abuse, such as one showing the detainees stacked in the human pyramid and another showing England holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash, did not depict any wrongdoing.

"You've probably been in a shopping mall and seen children on a tether," Womack told the jurors. "They are not being abused, they are keeping control. You see a picture of men stacked up in a pyramid. Don't cheerleaders form pyramids all across America?"

Both the prosecution and defense agree that Graner's fate will turn on the answers to three basic questions: Whether Graner was ordered to commit abuses, whether the order was lawful and whether a "reasonable person" would have believed the order to be lawful.

Prosecution witnesses provided some fodder for each side.

No witness could pinpoint any explicit order given to Graner or anyone else to harm or humiliate detainees. But, in a boost for the defense, several testified that military intelligence officers and civilian contractors appeared to be in charge of the high-security wing and issued orders to deprive detainees of sleep, handcuff them to walls and otherwise make them uncomfortable.

Prosecutors scored a victory, however, with the testimony of Pvt. Ivan Frederick, a guard who previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

"The things we were specifically charged for, we weren't ordered to do those," testified Frederick, who admitted fondling and being fondled by a female Iraqi prostitute who was held at the prison and to attaching electric wires to a detainee to make him think he would be tortured.

On Tuesday, Graner is expected to testify in his own defense.


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