Military prosecutors are nearing a decision on whether to charge two senior U.S. Army intelligence officers for their roles in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, a military court here was told Tuesday. Any such charges would be the first brought against officers and members of interrogation units at the prison outside Baghdad.
Maj. Michael R. Holly, a military prosecutor, identified the two officers as Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, formerly in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib, and his superior, Col. Thomas Pappas. Holly indicated that the Army was waiting for a report on military intelligence activities at the prison before deciding.
"We are still trying to identify the culpability of Jordan and Pappas," Holly told the presiding judge, Col. James L. Pohl, at a pre-trial hearing Tuesday for Staff Sgt. Javal Davis. "They are being investigated."
Davis is charged with cruelty and maltreatment, dereliction of duty and other crimes at the prison.
So far, indictments in the abuse scandal have been limited to seven low-ranking members of the 372nd Military Police Company, which provided guards for the prison's cellblocks.
Two days of hearings at a military post here for four of the accused touched repeatedly on the question of whether the soldiers acted on their own or whether military intelligence officers and superiors encouraged or ordered them to soften up prisoners.
During Tuesday's hearing, Davis's attorney, Paul W. Bergrin, asked the judge to grant the two intelligence officers immunity so that they could testify at Davis's trial. He asserted that the officers' testimony was needed to determine whether his client acted under orders. "The young MPs received orders to gather and gain as much intelligence as possible" on the grounds it "would save lives," Bergrin told reporters after the hearing.
Holly argued against immunity, on the grounds that prosecutors might decide to charge the two officers.
Pohl gave the prosecutors until Sept. 10 to explain why the pair should not be given immunity. It was the second time in the two days of hearings that Pohl told Army prosecutors to speed up investigations or risk favorable rulings for the defense.
Bergrin also asked that he be allowed to interview Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, on grounds that the "highest levels of government" authorized the activities at Abu Ghraib.
The abuse stemmed from interrogation procedures used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bergrin said, citing methods such as stripping inmates naked, interrogating them for long periods, hooding them and using dogs to intimidate them. "These are approved techniques," Bergrin told reporters. "What happened in this case is not merely coincidence."
Pohl turned down Bergrin's request, saying the attorney had not linked Rumsfeld to activities at Abu Ghraib. Bergrin also argued that Army investigators used improper methods to get information from his client.
On Tuesday, Pohl also conducted a pre-trial hearing for Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick, accused of sexually humiliating and beating prisoners. He has decided to plead guilty to some of the charges.
After Tuesday's hearing, Frederick's lawyer, Gary Myers, said that a deal had been negotiated with prosecutors, but he declined to discuss its terms or say which charges would stand and which would be withdrawn.
During the hearing, Myers asked that the trials of the MPs be moved from Baghdad, where they were scheduled to be held, to a safer venue. Civilian witnesses would refuse to go to Iraq for safety reasons, he said, adding that the decision to hold the trials in Baghdad was an effort to please the Iraqi people. Pohl rejected the motion on the grounds that if he moved the trials once, he might have to do it again if witnesses refused to travel to the new location.