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GI Pleads Guilty to Iraq Jail Charges

October 21, 2004|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The highest-ranking soldier charged with beating and humiliating Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison and snapping keepsake photos of the deeds pleaded guilty in military court Wednesday to assault, maltreatment, dereliction of duty, indecent acts and conspiracy.

Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, 38, an Army reservist and night supervisor at the prison, confessed to the charges as part of a plea deal. Prosecutors agreed to drop other counts in exchange for his cooperation in future courts-martial. He is expected to be sentenced today.

In calm, confident tones, Frederick told the court at a U.S. military base in Baghdad that he had twisted a loose wire around the finger of a blindfolded detainee and threatened to electrocute the man if he teetered off a box -- though there was no real danger. He described how he had helped to throw naked prisoners into a pile and watched as other soldiers jumped on them and stomped on their fingers and toes.

He also said he punched one detainee in the chest, causing him to collapse, then ordered him to perform a sexual act in front of soldiers and prisoners "just to humiliate him."

"I was wrong about what I did and I shouldn't have done it," Frederick told Army Col. James Pohl, the judge. "I knew it was wrong at the time because it was a form of abuse." His behavior, he said, "makes the Army look bad."

Frederick described the atmosphere at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, as one of enormous stress and few regulations. He said he never understood exactly who was in charge of the prison.

Upon entering the prison for the first time last fall, Frederick said, he saw naked men handcuffed to cell doors and others wearing nothing but women's underwear. These forms of humiliation were ordered by military intelligence officers, he said, because they wanted prisoners to be compliant during interrogations.

"Nudity was to humiliate and degrade them for military intelligence purposes," Frederick said. "It was very embarrassing for an Arabic male to be seen nude by another."

Before becoming involved in the abuse of prisoners, Frederick said, he asked for manuals on operating procedures and was told that there weren't any.

He also said that Iraqi police working at Abu Ghraib collaborated with prisoners, smuggling in drugs, maps of the facility, clothes, weapons and ammunition.

In one incident around Thanksgiving, a Syrian prisoner opened fire on guards with a gun given to him by an Iraqi policeman, Frederick said.

"It turned into a nightmare from there," he said. "People were running everywhere screaming. There were dogs barking. We were searching the cells for weapons. It was total chaos."

Frederick -- a resident of Buckingham, Va., and a Virginia state prison guard in civilian life -- is one of seven members of the Army Reserve's 372nd Military Police Company based in Cresaptown, Md., to be charged in the scandal. Another, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, in his mid-20s, of Hyndman, Pa., is serving a one-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in May to three counts.

A military intelligence soldier, Spc. Armin J. Cruz, 24, was sentenced in September to eight months in prison, a reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge for his role in the abuse.

Last month, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that 45 people had been referred for courts-martial in the Abu Ghraib case and that 12 letters of reprimand had been issued to officers.

Investigators began looking into allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib in January, when a soldier slipped copies of the photographs under their door. In April, the images were leaked to the media and published worldwide, to great condemnation.

About a dozen inquiries into the abuse were launched. In the earliest stages of the scandal, top Bush administration officials sought to blame a small band of low-ranking soldiers for the abuse, but a Pentagon investigation completed in August concluded that more than three dozen military intelligence officers, their commanders, CIA agents and Pentagon contractors were also involved.

A separate inquiry, also completed in August, faulted top officials, including Rumsfeld and Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of ground forces in Iraq, for failing to lay down consistent and specific policies on treatment of detainees and for failing to properly train and staff units to guard and interrogate prisoners. No senior officials, however, have been fired. In fact, Rumsfeld has privately told colleagues he intends to award Sanchez a fourth star.

Initially, Frederick faced possible punishment of 18 years in prison, loss of pay, demotion and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of all counts. He now will face less because some charges were dropped in the plea deal.

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