Trial Starts in Abu Ghraib Death

By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

SAN DIEGO, May 24 -- An alleged Iraqi insurgent, Manadel Jamadi, died under intense CIA questioning at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad about 19 months ago. On Tuesday, the government launched the first criminal trial in the case -- but none of the CIA agents who were involved is facing charges.

Rather, the Navy court-martialed Lt. Andrew K. Ledford, a Navy SEAL whose platoon had captured Jamadi and delivered him -- alive, kicking and shouting, witnesses say -- to CIA interrogators on the night of his death.

Ledford faces 11 years in jail if convicted on charges of punching Jamadi in the arm, posing in a photograph with the captured prisoner and lying to investigators.

The prosecution of a decorated Navy commando following a killing that occurred under CIA auspices has stirred resentment in military circles, with sailors concerned that a naval officer is taking the fall for civilian misconduct. The CIA says the case is under investigation, but none of its agents has been charged.

"It's a very good question why my client is the one on trial," said Ledford's civilian defense attorney, Frank Spinner, during a break in proceedings. One of Ledford's former subordinates, Dan Cerrillo, bluntly declared from the witness stand Tuesday, "I don't think this whole thing is right."

Echoing testimony in other trials stemming from the Abu Ghraib scandal, Cerrillo said he and his fellow SEALs were untrained for dealing with Iraqi prisoners.

"Our Navy training was very, very inadequate," he testified Tuesday. "What we did in Iraq was very different from what we were trained for -- 180 degrees."

Since dramatic prison photographs were leaked to the media a year ago, American abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the often-chaotic Abu Ghraib cellblocks has turned into a global scandal. The pictures prompted worldwide denunciation of the United States. An insurgent group in Iraq kidnapped and killed a U.S. civilian, saying it was retaliating for mistreatment of Iraqis in the prison.

President Bush has said that the wrongdoing was strictly the fault of a small clique of junior enlisted soldiers.

A government report obtained by the Associated Press said that Jamadi died an hour after his arrival at Abu Ghraib in early November 2003. The report said he had been beaten while in CIA custody and then hung by his wrists, with his arms crossed across his back -- treatment described as "torture" by international organizations. The prisoner reportedly died before CIA interrogators extracted information from him.

U.S. Army guards at the prison then packed his body in ice and posed with the corpse in mocking photographs.

Ledford, a Naval Academy graduate, was commander of SEAL platoon Foxtrot, based near Baghdad. His squad was a "delivery unit," charged with tracking down Iraqi insurgents and delivering them to intelligence officers for questioning.

Nine other members of Ledford's platoon have faced administrative reprimands -- to the military, "non-judicial punishment" -- stemming from the arrest of Jamadi.

Spinner, the defense lawyer, said Ledford was given the more severe treatment of a court-martial presumably because he was in command.

Because of the CIA involvement in the prisoner's death, the Ledford court-martial has a heavy intelligence overlay.

A "security officer" approves every question from lawyers before witnesses can answer. Some witnesses testify behind blue curtains to protect their "visual identity." A civilian CIA lawyer tracks all testimony from the back of the courtroom.

As the prosecution launched its case, a naval investigator, Eric Barrus, acknowledged that he lied to Ledford while questioning him about the arrest of Jamadi. Barrus said he made up stories about what other members of the platoon had said to get Ledford to admit to abusing the prisoner.

A six-member jury of naval officers, most of them also members of the SEAL commando unit, was seated to hear the case. Lawyers said they expect a verdict on the five charges this week.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company