FORT HOOD, Tex., Jan. 11 -- Two former inmates of the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq testified Tuesday at the Army court-martial of a former guard, and both angrily maintained that the beatings and humiliation of prisoners by American soldiers there, in the words of one of them, "represented the true face of the U.S."
"These American guards shaped our view of what America looks like altogether," testified Hussein Mutar, an Iraqi who was picked up for alleged car theft in Baghdad and ended up in the cellblock at Abu Ghraib where much of the abuse occurred. Describing how he was punched, stomped on, stripped and forced to simulate homosexual acts by U.S. soldiers, Mutar grimaced and said, "Saddam [Hussein] didn't do this to us."
Army Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., second from right, walks with his parents, Chuck and Irma Jean Graner.
(L.m. Otero -- AP)
With the videotaped testimony of Mutar and a Syrian inmate, Ameen al-Sheik, Army prosecutors completed their case against Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., who has pleaded not guilty to five charges stemming from his conduct as an Abu Ghraib guard.
Graner's defense is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, with his lawyers arguing that the enlisted reservist cannot be found guilty because senior officers ordered or condoned his conduct at the prison. The defense also hopes to prove that the tactics used in Abu Ghraib, such as forcing naked prisoners to form a human pyramid, are standard inmate-control techniques.
In his testimony, al-Sheik identified Graner, 36, as the guard who smashed a stick against his injured legs. American soldiers called al-Sheik "Trigger" because he once opened fire on guards with a pistol smuggled into the prison. Al-Sheik called Graner "the primary torturer" and said the reservist forced inmates to eat from a toilet, smashed them with his fists and threatened them with snarling police dogs.
On cross-examination, al-Sheik conceded that he "hated" Graner and had viewed any U.S. soldier as his enemy. He admitted that he had gone to Baghdad in the summer of 2003 with an arsenal of AK-47 rifles and grenades. "Did you plan to use them against Americans?" a defense lawyer asked. "Unfortunately, yes," al-Sheik replied.
Guy Womack, Graner's civilian defense attorney, said outside the court that al-Sheik was "a very helpful witness" for the defense. "It's the face of the enemy, and it's very clear that he hated Americans," Womack said.
Graner himself brushed off al-Sheik's testimony, saying outside the courtroom: "The last time I saw him, he was threatening to kill me."
In his videotaped testimony, Mutar described his alleged torture but could not identify who was responsible because "there was a bag over my eyes." Guards in the cellblock, labeled "Tier One-Alpha," routinely put black hoods over the prisoners' heads.
He said the Army guards "changed our perspective of all Americans."
"They treated us as if we were a theater, a laughter," he went on, speaking through an interpreter. "I couldn't imagine that this could happen."
Graner could face as much as 17 1/2 years in a military prison if convicted on all charges. He is the first soldier to face a full-fledged court-martial for his conduct in the Abu Ghraib scandal; four other former guards have pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct.
Testimony before Congress, and in the court-martial here, has indicated that senior Army officers, CIA operatives and military intelligence personnel were regularly at the Abu Ghraib prison during the months in late 2003 when the widely reported abuse occurred. None of the officers who were at the prison, and no one higher in the chain of command, has faced criminal charges.
That constitutes the core of Graner's defense.
"The obvious question is: Why hasn't anybody but junior enlisted people been indicted?" Womack said. "The reason is: Putting the officers on trial would show that this is a much bigger deal than a few low-ranking military police."