The unit that was at the middle of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal is preparing to return to the United States and could be back on American soil as early as Monday, an Army spokeswoman said yesterday.
Six members of the 372nd Military Police Company are facing charges, and one, Spec. Jeremy Sivits, has pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and three other criminal counts related to his failure to stop the abuse he witnessed. He was sentenced by an Army judge to one year in prison and has agreed to testify against the others.
Five of the six facing charges are in Baghdad. The sixth, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, is at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where she is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing next week.
But the rest of the unit, which has more than 100 soldiers, is at a military base in Kuwait, waiting to come home, said Sandra Ellis, a spokeswoman for Fort Lee, the Virginia Army post that is to receive the 372nd. She said the unit could board a flight as early as Sunday and be in the United States by Monday.
"But we don't yet have any confirmed flight time," she said.
The Army Reserve unit, which is based in Cumberland, Md., would stay at Fort Lee for about a week before being allowed to go home, Ellis said.
The unit was called up for duty in Iraq in February 2003. By last summer, it was assigned to guard the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison. The unit was originally supposed to come home after a year abroad, family members have said. But its homecoming was delayed twice -- the second time just before the scandal became public.
Ellis said the unit would have a quiet and quick welcome-home ceremony when it arrives. "These soldiers have been away for a long time, and they want to see their families," she said. "And we don't want to hold them up."
Linda Comer, the unit's family readiness coordinator, told the Associated Press that the soldiers don't want a big welcome-home production.
"They want to be anonymous, I think," said Comer, whose husband, Keith, is a sergeant first class. "Why, I don't know. They didn't do anything wrong. They just want to come home."
Ivan "Red" Frederick, father of Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, who is charged in the case, said yesterday that he wished his son was with the rest of the unit.
Chip Frederick is "aggravated and discouraged that he's being held there," his father said. "He'd like to come home. . . . The waiting is getting to him."