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1st Abu Ghraib Jury Is Picked

The Army is set to try Charles Graner, who is accused of a leading role in Iraqi prisoner abuse.

January 08, 2005|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

FT. HOOD, Texas — A jury of 10 Army servicemen was impaneled Friday to hear the first contested court-martial in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that rocked the U.S. military and tarnished the American effort in Iraq.

Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. is accused of being the ringleader of the extensively documented abuse of Iraqi prisoners in late 2003. Graner smiled outside the court and said he was optimistic about the outcome.

"Whatever happens is going to happen," Graner told reporters in a rare public comment. "But I still feel it's going to be on the positive side."

Asked why he was so upbeat when facing the possibility of a long prison sentence, the former prison guard smiled more broadly and said, "The sun is still shining. The sky is blue. We're in America.... It's been ups and downs but the ups have so outweighed the downs."

Graner's defense will argue that he and seven others who have been charged were following orders from military higher-ups. Testimony in the case begins Monday.

"They should prosecute those people who were giving those unlawful orders," said Graner's lawyer Guy Womack. "We have to hold the order-givers to a higher standard. We don't want soldiers in combat debating whether orders are lawful or not."

Womack said it was an "absolute defense" that his 36-year-old client believed he was following direct orders to "soften up detainees" for future interrogations.

The Houston attorney said that even though Graner was often shown smiling in the photographs taken of the abuse, it was merely "gallows humor" and Graner truly believed he was obeying commands.

"He's a calm, cool professional," Womack said.

Womack said several top officials at the prison have refused to testify at the trial for fear their testimony would be used against them. As for others in the chain of command, Womack said, "there are some that will lie."

The all-male military jury was picked in an hour Friday morning. Though all the prospective jurors said they were aware of the case, only one was so deeply disturbed that he could not be fair to Graner.

"Frankly, I've got to tell you it had a strong impact on me," said Lt. Col. Allen Batschelet. "As an Army officer, I was embarrassed ... by what I saw in the media. I don't want to pull any punches here. The values I hold dear as a soldier were called into question by the whole affair."

Batschelet was not picked for the jury.

Of the 10 chosen, two said they had served overseas in the war on terrorism -- one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. But Womack said all had some kind of combat experience, which he said was good for Graner.

Graner is charged with abusing prisoners by various methods, many of them recorded in photographs showing captured Iraqis naked and stacked in a pyramid on the prison floor and in other humiliating positions. He appears in several photos, smiling and flashing a thumbs-up before the camera.

He faces as much as 17 1/2 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all his pay.

Other upcoming courts-martial in the Abu Ghraib scandal include those for Sgt. Javal S. Davis and Spc. Sabrina Harman, both next month. Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who recently gave birth to Graner's child, is awaiting a trial date.

Four others have pleaded guilty, and they are expected to testify against Graner next week. In addition, testimony probably will be heard from two detainees called by prosecutors and a third by the defense.

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