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Abu Ghraib Called Filthy and Volatile at Army Hearing

An officer testifying in a comrade's sentencing phase describes conditions affecting inmates and guards at the Iraq prison.

February 03, 2005|From Associated Press

FT. HOOD, Texas — Conditions at the Abu Ghraib prison were so deplorable that rats and wild dogs were a common sight and edible food and water were scarce, a witness testified Wednesday in the penalty phase for a soldier who has pleaded guilty to abusing detainees.

Army Maj. David Dinenna Sr., a leader of Sgt. Javal S. Davis' military police battalion, testified that Abu Ghraib was a bleak and volatile place for the thousands of detainees and their vastly outnumbered guards.

"It was filthy, with rodents, rats, wild dogs and trash and an overpopulation of prisoners," Dinenna said. There were frequent mortar attacks and prisoner flare-ups.

Davis, 27, a reservist from Roselle, N.J., pleaded guilty Tuesday to battery, dereliction of duty and lying to Army investigators as part of a deal with prosecutors on the eve of his scheduled trial.

The former guard faces a maximum 6 1/2 years in prison for his crimes, but defense lawyer Paul Bergrin has said the plea deal caps Davis' sentence at 18 months.

Capt. Chuck Neill, a prosecution spokesman, said that the jury's sentence recommendation would be compared with the deal offered Davis and that the lesser sentence would be served.

Earlier in the hearing, prosecutors played a tape for the nine-man Army jury in which Davis responded to questions from the judge Tuesday about what he did to seven handcuffed and hooded prisoners in November 2003.

In the tape, Davis admitted that he stepped on the hands and feet of detainees and that he later fell on them with his full weight.

Davis said that he knew his actions were wrong and that the abuse was not carried out as part of an approved regimen prior to interrogation, as other accused guards have said.

He said that he saw prisoners being physically mistreated and sexually humiliated but that he failed to help them or report the abuse, as required under military law. He also admitted lying to an Army investigator by denying his misdeeds.

Davis also spoke of dangers faced by guards at Abu Ghraib, including prisoners armed with homemade knives. He blamed a high level of stress for his wrongful acts.

Dinenna, under cross-examination, agreed that guards at other U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq faced similar conditions but did not abuse prisoners as a result.

The recording was the only evidence offered by prosecutors during the sentencing phase, which is scheduled to last at least two days.

Bergrin has said he will probably call Davis to testify, and he will present videotaped testimony from three Iraqi detainees who say Davis treated them well.

Five other soldiers have pleaded guilty in the case and been sentenced. Two others -- Spc. Sabrina Harman and Pfc. Lynndie R. England -- still face trial.

The only case to reach trial is that of Charles A. Graner Jr., described as the ringleader. Graner was convicted in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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