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Efforts to Halt Prison Abuse Told

Witness testifies that he confronted guards and reported mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in fall.

August 05, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

FT. BRAGG, N.C. — Two months before the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq ignited an international scandal, a small group of soldiers tried to stop the assaults but never took the extra step of alerting the military's high command that detainees were being mistreated -- a failure that allowed the misconduct to continue.

That account emerged for the first time Wednesday in a military preliminary hearing for Army Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, who is facing several criminal charges in connection with the abuse that could send her to prison for nearly four decades.

Testifying by telephone from Ft. Lee, Va., where members of the 372nd Military Police Company returned this week from Iraq, two soldiers said they were angered by the mistreatment of prisoners and confronted some of the military police allegedly responsible.

But Spc. Matt Wisdom and Sgt. Robert Jones II said that they did little else about what they saw and heard on the prison's Tier 1A, and that it was not until January of this year that another soldier anonymously tipped off Army criminal investigators about the abuse.

"It was wrong," said Wisdom, recalling how detainees were beaten and forced to perform humiliating sexual acts. "It was morally wrong. It was ethically wrong." Added his supervisor, Jones: "I knew you're not allowed to beat prisoners. I knew you're not allowed to make prisoners commit heinous sex acts, no matter what they've done."

England, 21 and seven months pregnant, is one of six soldiers facing possible court-martial in the Abu Ghraib scandal. A seventh has pleaded guilty. The hearing this week is designed to gather information for an investigating officer, Col. Denise Arn, to make a recommendation to Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who will make the ultimate decision on whether England stands trial.

Unlike Tuesday, when England left the hearing early for medical reasons, she sat calmly through Wednesday's proceedings. She relaxed with a plaid pillow stuffed into the back of her chair. Sometimes, she closed her eyes or sipped on lemon-lime soda.

Witnesses said England, who was not assigned to Tier 1A, was repeatedly disciplined for sneaking off to meet with her boyfriend, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., one of the accused soldiers. They said she would hang around that part of the prison and pose, smiling, for photos with naked inmates in sexually humiliating positions.

But much of the testimony Wednesday was about other soldiers. Wisdom testified that in early November, he and other guards were escorting seven inmates to Tier 1A after a prison riot. He said gunnysacks were over their heads and that suddenly other guards began striking them for no reason.

He said Graner and two other accused soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick II and Sgt. Javal S. Davis -- "began to rotate around the detainees and abuse and hit them." He said Graner posed for a photograph with his fist cocked near a detainee's head. "Right after the picture was taken, he actually hit him," Wisdom said.

"Sgt. Davis was walking around and stomping on prisoners' toes. And Sgt. Frederick hit a detainee in the side of his chest," Wisdom said. Then, he testified, Frederick "looked at me and said: 'Wisdom, you've got to get some of this,' meaning I should hit the detainees as well." Wisdom said that he told Davis not to stomp on toes, and that Davis told him: "Who are you to tell me to stop?"

Wisdom said he rushed outside and alerted Jones, his team leader, who was serving as a guard on the prison's Tower 5.

Wisdom said when he went back to Tier 1A, he saw a naked detainee being forced to masturbate in front of another naked detainee kneeling before him. He said Frederick told him, "Look what these animals do when we leave them alone for two seconds." England, Wisdom said, was there making sexually suggestive comments "in a somewhat sarcastic, fun tone of voice."

Wisdom said that he went back to Tower 5 and told Jones about this too, and that Jones assured him the "problem would be addressed and dealt with." Wisdom then requested and was given a transfer the next day to a job elsewhere in the prison.

But later, while delivering food to another tier, Wisdom said he saw Davis walking around holding women's panties, cash and a pistol and boasting to a local Iraqi mayor, who was then a prisoner, that he had had sex with the unnamed mayor's sisters.

Wisdom said that this bothered him too, and that he reported it to a sergeant. But Wisdom said that he never told senior officers, and that he never sought medical care for prisoners he said had been injured.

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