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The Nation

Soldier Tells of Prison Abuse

At a hearing for an accused private, a guard who has pleaded guilty says military police urged others to join in the Abu Ghraib assaults.

August 31, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

FT. BRAGG, N.C. — The soldier who pleaded guilty in the Abu Ghraib scandal provided fresh details Monday about some of the worst abuse at the Iraqi prison, saying that guards encouraged an Army medic to join in on the assault and that the mistreatment was not reported to superiors because soldiers assumed "it wouldn't go anywhere."

Spc. Jeremy A. Sivits was one of the last witnesses to testify at a preliminary hearing into whether Pfc. Lynndie R. England should be ordered to stand trial at a court-martial on 13 charges of abuse and six counts of indecent acts.

But Col. Denise J. Arn, who is presiding over the hearing, said she would decide today whether additional witnesses would testify on England's behalf. The defense hopes to prove guards acted at the behest of interrogators.

Earlier this month, defense lawyers submitted a list of about 160 witnesses. But Arn approved only one -- Kenneth A. Davis, a former Army reservist who testified Monday that he once saw military interrogators abuse inmates.

After Davis testified, England's lawyers again asked to call Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who oversaw the guards at Abu Ghraib. They said she could testify that she was told the prison was "an intel operation" and that her guards worked for them.

Defense lawyer Richard A. Hernandez said interrogators told Karpinski they wanted her guards to "treat detainees like dogs." But Capt. John Benson, a military prosecutor, questioned Karpinski's veracity, saying she had made countless statements since the scandal broke last spring to shield her own culpability. "She's a brigadier general," Benson said. "She has a lot to lose."

England and six other military police officers, including Sivits, were accused of abuse in the Abu Ghraib scandal. The basic defense by England and other accused MPs -- that they were carrying out instructions from military intelligence, officers at the prison -- was backed up by a Pentagon report last week that identified numerous intelligence officers among nearly 50 military officials who contributed in some way to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Sivits testified that he saw England and Sgt. Javal S. Davis, one of the accused soldiers, "stomping on the fingers and toes of detainees naked in a pyramid" on the floor.

He said Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, who recently said he would plead guilty to some charges, punched a detainee in the chest and knocked him to the ground. Sivits said that he ran to the man to help him breathe, and that a female medic also was called to assist.

As the medic was leaving, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., who also faces charges, asked her, "Do you want to get some?" -- an encouragement for her to take part in the abuse. But, said Sivits, the medic "just shook her head and said no and walked out." Sivits also said Graner punched a different prisoner in the temple, knocking him out.

At the same time, Sivits said, Graner, England and others were taking photographs and posing for photos with abused inmates. "Cpl. Graner seemed like he was enjoying this. Pfc. England was laughing." He said another accused soldier, Spc. Sabrina Harman, appeared "disgusted" but later said it was futile to tell military superiors about the abuse.

"She said she didn't know who to tell because it wouldn't be resolved," Sivits said. "She felt if she told anyone in the chain of command it wouldn't go anywhere."

Sivits also said he was warned by Graner, "you didn't see" anything, -- an admonition not to say a word about the abuse.

"I felt that was an order from Cpl. Graner," Sivits said.

He added that he believed Graner and Frederick when they told him the abuse was carried out at the direct request of military intelligence soldiers.

"They had never lied to me about anything else," he said. "So I figured that was what they were told to do."

Sivits, who is serving a year in military prison for mistreating prisoners, acknowledged that he took one of the photos of abused detainees. "I was just trying to be nice to everybody," he said of his fellow soldiers.

"I'm friends with everybody and I didn't want anybody to think I'm a bad person."

The other witness Monday was former Sgt. Kenneth A. Davis, a prison guard. He testified that he saw two military intelligence soldiers handcuffing detainees naked to cell bars and that the interrogators told him, "We're [military intelligence]. We know what we're doing."

Davis also said he was not given copies of the Geneva Convention or the formal rules of engagement policy against detainee abuse, despite this being his first military trip abroad. Rather, he said, he was told to treat prisoners as if they were enemy soldiers on the battlefield.

"They told me, if it looks like the enemy, shoot it," Davis said. "And for someone who had never been outside the United States, those were pretty broad rules."

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