Guard Convicted In the First Trial From Abu Ghraib

By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2005

FORT HOOD, Tex., Jan. 14 -- In the first full-scale court-martial stemming from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a military jury Friday convicted Army Reserve Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. on five counts of assault, maltreatment and conspiracy in connection with the beating and humiliation of Iraqi detainees.

The 10-member jury, composed of both officers and enlisted men, spent less than five hours deliberating and rejected Graner's defense that he was just following orders. Graner had been charged with smashing inmates with a steel rod and forcing naked men to simulate sexual acts. Photographs of the abuse were published by news organizations, triggering anti-American fury around the world.

Graner stood at attention and looked straight ahead, showing no emotion, as the guilty verdicts were announced. His parents, Irma Graner and Charles Graner Sr., hugged each other tightly on the spectator bench of the austere military courtroom.

The 36-year-old prison guard from Uniontown, Pa., also was acquitted of some of the specific allegations within the charges and now faces up to 15 years in a military prison. A sentencing hearing began Friday and was scheduled to continue on Saturday.

The defense maintained that Graner, who was a corporal and has since been demoted, and the other low-ranking enlisted soldiers indicted in the case were scapegoats set up by the Army to deflect blame from senior offices in charge of the prison. No officer at Abu Ghraib, and no one higher in the chain of command, has faced criminal charges to date.

That discrepancy became the core defense argument at the court-martial. Defense attorney Guy Womack reiterated the point in closing arguments Friday. "The government is asking a corporal to take the hit for them," Womack said.

"The chain of command says, 'We didn't know anything about this stuff,' " he continued. "You know that is a lie."

Four others stationed at Abu Ghraib have pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the abuse; three were sentenced to prison terms, and one was reduced in rank. Two more face trials in the next two months.

The abuse described in Graner's week-long trial took place in the fall of 2003 and the winter of 2003-04 at Abu Ghraib, a crumbling Saddam Hussein-era prison near Baghdad that U.S. forces took over for lack of a better detention facility.

Between 80 and 100 of the toughest prisoners, including insurgents arrested for attacking Americans, were held in a cellblock called "Tier One-Alpha." Graner, who had been a corrections officer in Pennsylvania, was in charge of the night shift on that block, with one other reservist on hand to assist. Testimony showed that prisoners there were kept naked much of the time, with hoods over their heads, and often chained to the bars in painful "stress positions."

Inmates and U.S. soldiers testified that Army guards regularly beat the prisoners with fists or iron rods, forced them to eat food from a toilet, confronted them with unmuzzled police dogs, and made them wallow naked in the mud outside in near-freezing temperatures.

Sexual humiliation was another common practice on One-Alpha, witnesses said. Naked men were required to masturbate and to simulate homosexual sex, while female American soldiers were instructed by officers to take pictures and shout abuse. One of the specific charges of "maltreatment" brought against Graner involved an inmate nicknamed "Gus." When he was causing trouble for the guards, prosecutors said, Graner tied a leash around his neck and made him crawl like a dog.

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