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The Nation

Unveiling the Face of the Prison Scandal

Chuck Graner, accused of leading the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, was a polite boy. Only in adulthood did troubling signs appear.

June 19, 2004|Paul Lieberman and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

Graner alleged that his wife had "left the marriage to become involved in another relationship." She did not respond to that, but told a judge that she and the children had come back to their old home for a time, when Graner promised to get an apartment for himself. "He has returned every night in the middle of the night, sneaks into the house," she complained. "He claims that that is the only place he can get ready for work.... I wake up with him just standing and staring at me."

He also installed hidden video cameras in the house, she said. The court file does not say what was on the tapes, but the judge ordered Graner to turn them over to Staci.

Graner's divorce lawyer, Phyllis A. Jin, downplays the split as "not as nasty as some." She describes Graner as a "typical, hard-working man ... very devoted to his children."

He did not seem very devoted to his job, though. Graner's record at SCI-Greene was: reprimanded in December 1997 for lateness and unreliability; suspended a day in October 1998 for tardiness; and suspended for similar offenses for five days in March 1999 and another five days in February 2000 -- a month after the divorce became official -- when he was given a "final warning" by the prison.

That June 16, four years into his tenure there, Graner still was a corrections officer on the graveyard shift, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Ninety minutes before it ended, a lieutenant said they needed him to stay and work overtime. Graner called the union steward to say that he had to be home by 8 a.m., when his son and daughter were to be dropped off under his joint custody agreement.

The captain in charge said Graner told him only that he had to pick up his kids, and gave the impression he'd be back, as ordered. Graner never returned.

He was fired July 17, 2000, and went to work for a temp agency and a private security firm.

In March 2001, Staci filed for her third protective order, telling the court her former husband "still considers me his wife and if I refuse to live with him as such, he considers me 'dead.' " He "yanked me out of ... bed by my hair, dragging me and all of the covers out into the hall and tried to throw me down the steps," she said. "Both of the children ... were screaming [and] he let go of me, turned around to the children and said, 'See what your mommy is doing to us?' "

The police were called, and Graner pleaded guilty two weeks later to harassment. He was ordered to pay $116 in fines and court costs.

Later, Staci turned to the court again, when she was moving on with her life, becoming a nurse and getting remarried. She petitioned to have her ex-husband buy out her interest in their house, where he was living.

That's when the court got a letter, from Ft. Dix, N.J., reporting that Charles Graner would not be able to appear at any hearings for a while. It was from a Capt. Raymond Short, who wrote, "Cpl. Graner's critical role in the national security mission of this command precludes his participation."

*

Back in the Service

When Graner re-upped Dec. 20, 2001, it was with the Army's 372nd Military Police Company based in Cumberland, Md. The reservists there included other veterans along with green recruits, such as the pizzeria manager and auto mechanic with whom he would later make news, and Lynndie England, from just down the road in Fort Ashby, W.Va. She once worked in a chicken processing plant and had enlisted at 17, thinking she'd be a "paper-pusher," her family said, and earn money for college.

The monthly pay was $1,891.50 once they were activated in 2003, but Graner got two bump-ups along the way. One came with good news: an arbitrator had overturned his firing by the prison. The ruling said he had an "abysmal record" of tardiness, but that his punishment for disobeying an order was far too severe; it was reduced to a three-day suspension. Graner was due back pay, would have a guard's job waiting and, while in the Army, would get a $500-a-month stipend from the state.

He got another $100 a month from the federal government when the 372nd was ordered out to foreign service in March 2003.

Graner was a regular at Uniontown's Bread of Life Tabernacle in the months before they shipped out. He sometimes brought a young guest to Sunday services at the church to which he'd been introduced by his ex-wife's family, and where they still were fixtures. The congregants would recognize his guest later, in the photos from Iraq. "We knew her," Pastor R. Brian Kisner said of Lynndie England.

The petite West Virginian similarly took Graner to see Fort Ashby, where her parents later would put up warning signs in their trailer park to keep the press out. Graner and England clearly were an item well before they reached Iraq.

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