Abu Ghraib Dog Handler Is Found Guilty

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 2, 2006

A military jury convicted an Army sergeant yesterday of using a dog to unlawfully threaten a former high-ranking Baath Party member while the man was detained at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in late 2003 or early 2004. But it acquitted him of seven other charges that he conspired with others to harass detainees.

The conviction of Sgt. Santos A. Cardona on dereliction of duty and aggravated assault charges by a panel at Fort Meade means he could be discharged, forced to forfeit his pay and sentenced to as many as 3 1/2 years in a military jail. A sentencing hearing had not been concluded as of late yesterday.

Cardona is the 11th soldier to be held responsible for the widely publicized abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, which including forced nakedness, the use of leashes and sexual humiliation. President Bush last week characterized the abuses as the "biggest mistake" of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, and added that "we've been paying for that for a long period of time."

No one above the rank of colonel has been punished. The Pentagon has concluded that those involved were rogues violating orders instead of soldiers following administration policy, as many of the soldiers' defense attorneys had alleged.

In private statements to military investigators, senior Army officials in Iraq at the time have said Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, applied intense pressures on them to extract more information from Iraqi detainees. But they did not say they were ordered to break the law.

The jury of four officers and three enlisted personnel did not explain its decision to acquit Cardona, 32, of charges involving maltreatment, conspiracy and lying to investigators. A separate jury at Fort Meade in March convicted a dog-handling colleague of Cardona's at Abu Ghraib, Sgt. Michael J. Smith, of several counts of mistreating detainees and conspiring to harass them. Smith was sentenced to 179 days in jail.

The Iraqi whom Cardona was convicted of threatening with his Belgian shepherd was 63-year-old Kamel Mizal Nayil, who is described in Army documents as having been arrested on Dec. 14, 2003, after his name was found on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein at the time of Hussein's capture. A former Baathist with a long military career, Nayil helped arrange the surrender of Iraqi forces in Mosul at the outset of the war.

Nayil lodged complaints of abuse and mistreatment at Abu Ghraib the following February. U.S. interrogation logs indicate that Nayil provided significant information about other Baathists, generals and the insurgency after the war.

The jury acquitted Cardona of using his dog to mistreat another detainee, Mohammed Bollendia, after Cardona's attorney, Harvey Volzer, presented testimony that Bollendia had struck another U.S. soldier at Abu Ghraib.

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