Army Dog Handler Gets Hard Labor, No Jail Time
Saturday, June 3, 2006
A military police dog handler who was convicted of using his animal to intimidate a detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was sentenced yesterday to 90 days of hard labor, a penalty that will allow him to stay in the Army without serving a day in jail, according to his defense attorney.
The sentence also calls for Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 32, to be reduced one rank and to forfeit $600 of his monthly pay for 12 months on his convictions for assaulting a high-value detainee in late 2003 and early 2004 and for dereliction of duty. Cardona will be allowed to stay with his military police unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., and will perform the labor at the behest of his company commander.
Cardona was charged with conspiracy and abuse relating to incidents at the prison involving another military dog handler and other soldiers and interrogators who were working in a wing of the facility dedicated to detainees of intelligence value. A military jury at Fort Meade found Cardona not guilty of several charges involving a series of abuses but decided he was responsible for allowing his dog, Duco, to bark and growl at one detainee in U.S. custody.
Harvey Volzer, Cardona's civilian defense attorney, said in an interview yesterday that his client was "ecstatic" about the verdict and looks forward to continuing his military career.
"He wanted to stay in the service, and this will allow him to do it," Volzer said. "He doesn't feel he did anything but help his fellow soldiers, whether in an interrogation or helping a problem guy be more compliant for interrogation."
Prosecutors have described Cardona and former Sgt. Michael J. Smith -- an Army dog handler sentenced to nearly six months in jail on similar charges -- as rogue police officers who were intimidating and assaulting detainees on the night shift along with a group of other wayward MPs. Volzer and Army Capt. Kirsten M. Mayer argued that Cardona was following instructions to use his dog to frighten detainees.
Cardona is one of nearly a dozen soldiers who have been punished for abuse at the prison, but his sentence -- including no jail time and no discharge -- is the lightest for those who have faced a court-martial.