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Two Army Dog Handlers Charged in Abuse Scandal

Soldiers say they were following orders and deny using the animals in a game to scare Abu Ghraib prisoners into soiling themselves.

June 03, 2005|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Army officials named two military dog handlers at Abu Ghraib prison in criminal charges Thursday, alleging that they used their unmuzzled animals to "threaten and harass detainees" and scare them into cooperating with interrogators.

The two sergeants are the first dog handlers to be named as criminal defendants in the abuses at the prison outside Baghdad. Photos of dogs barking and growling at inmates, some of them naked, were among the scenes of detainee torture broadcast around the world.

According to Army charge sheets obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona and Sgt. Michael Smith "intentionally scared detainees to make them urinate on themselves as part of a game" at the prison from November 2003 to January 2004, during the height of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.

The charges also state that Cardona used his "unmuzzled barking and growling military working dog" to frighten detainees and make them defecate.

The charge sheet names two detainees whom Cardona allegedly was involved in abusing, Mohammed Bollendia and Kamel Miza'l Nayil. Bollendia was allegedly attacked by a dog; his injuries were unknown. Nayil was allegedly harassed and threatened with injury.

If convicted on all charges, Cardona could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison.

Cardona's charge sheet states that he conspired with Smith to abuse detainees. Other specific charges against Smith were not immediately available.

Harvey Volzer, a Washington lawyer representing Cardona, said his client was being made a scapegoat by a military system that had held no senior officers accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

"We always suspected that politicians and military higher-ups had ordered all these things to occur to get information from the detainees," Volzer said. "In the case of the dog handlers, we have irrefutable evidence that they were ordered to use the dogs."

He was referring to statements made by Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at Abu Ghraib, to his superiors last year.

Pappas said that dogs were authorized for use for interrogation purposes at the prison, and Cardona and Smith told Army investigators that they were following those orders.

Last month Pappas was reprimanded, fined $8,000 and cited for two counts of dereliction of duty, effectively ending his 24-year military career, but he was not criminally prosecuted.

Army officials declined Thursday to discuss why the charges against the dog handlers were being filed now, a year after eight soldiers, including several military police officers, were accused of abusing and sexually humiliating detainees.

Seven have received sentences ranging from no jail time to 10 years; the eighth case is pending.

"As the investigations are ongoing, and as information is developed, we are holding soldiers accountable for their actions," an Army spokeswoman said.

But Volzer contended that continuing to charge only low-ranking soldiers tended to shield superiors from being held responsible.

"The Army works in strange ways," he said. "They need to keep the public thinking they are going after more people, and they hope that eventually everyone will forget that none of the high-ranking officers were charged."

The charges against Cardona also accuse him of making a false statement to an Army criminal investigator by telling Special Agent Warren Worth that he and Smith never intended to harm anyone or use the dogs in a game to see which prisoners would urinate on themselves.

"There is no game that Smitty and me play," Cardona reportedly told Worth in an official statement to the investigator. "It's just that we would go through and the detainees would get scared and urinate."

But according to the charge sheet, Cardona "intentionally scared detainees to make them urinate on themselves as part of a game with Sgt. Michael Smith," and he knew his statement to Worth "to be false."

The charges also allege that Cardona conspired with others -- specifically with Army Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., Army Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II and Steve Stefanowicz, a civilian interrogator -- to harass and threaten detainees.

Graner and Frederick, who have since been demoted to the rank of private, described as the ringleaders of the abuse, were prosecuted in military courts and are serving prison sentences. Stefanowicz, who was employed by a defense contractor, cannot be charged in the military justice system.

"We deny that Mr. Stefanowicz conspired with anyone to commit any kind of unlawful act," his lawyer, Henry E. Hockheimer Jr., said Thursday. "His conduct throughout his time as a civilian interrogator was always appropriate and authorized."

"It's also extremely unfortunate and curious," he said, "that the military would feel it necessary to name an individual in these charges who has not been charged with any wrongdoing."

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