By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005
FORT HOOD, Tex., Jan. 15 -- Former Army prison guard Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in a military stockade Saturday for his role in abusing Iraqi prisoners at the 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 take actions at the prison that he knew would "violate the Geneva Conventions."
Graner spent 2 1/2 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 cellblock "One-Alpha" at the crumbling, overcrowded Army prison housed a number of "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, and 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 demoted Graner to private 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 week-long trial: that numerous senior officers condoned the beatings and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
President Bush has said that the prison abuse was 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' cellblock "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. After the Sept. 11, 2001, 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 and in 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. In November, 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 Lt. Col. Jordan was a regular visitor to Graner's cellblock and was aware of all the abuse that led to the criminal charges. The Army says Jordan is under investigation.
Four enlisted soldiers who worked at cellblock One-Alpha have pleaded guilty in the case. Charges are pending against three other enlisted reservists who served at the prison. None of the officers at Abu Ghraib, and no one higher in the chain of command, has faced criminal charges. After charges were brought last year against the enlisted guards, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said "the people who have done something wrong are all being prosecuted."
Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack, complained 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?"
Testimony at the trial suggested that several soldiers who were appalled by the treatment of the inmates were ignored or reassigned when they reported abuse to officers.
Even Army Spec. Joseph Darby, the whistle-blower who has been praised by Rumsfeld for his efforts to stop the Abu Ghraib abuse, said on the witness stand that he did not trust the Army chain of command in Iraq. Darby testified that he thought the abuse should be stopped but did not get a satisfactory response from his superiors. So he gathered photographs of the situation on cellblock One-Alpha, put them in a brown envelope and slipped them anonymously under the door of the Baghdad office of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division. Detectives there, independent of the chain of command, then launched an investigation.
Graner was convicted of various specific acts of abuse, including knocking a blindfolded prisoner unconscious with a punch to the head, smashing an inmate's legs with a steel rod and forcing seven naked inmates to form a human pyramid.
In his rambling presentation to the jury Saturday, Graner said he was willing to accept a jail term for his offenses, but he pleaded with the jury not to discharge him from the Army. "I would ask the panel to give me that chance," he said.