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Claims of Abu Ghraib Contest

A witness says Army Sgt. Michael J. Smith spoke of a pact with another guard to terrorize detainees at the military prison in Iraq.

March 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

FT. MEADE, Md. — An Army dog handler charged with using his animal to terrify Abu Ghraib prisoners laughingly claimed he was competing with a comrade to frighten detainees into soiling themselves, according to testimony Tuesday at his court-martial.

The testimony on the second day of the trial was the most damaging evidence yet against Sgt. Michael J. Smith.

The witness, Sgt. John H. Ketzer, was an interrogator at the prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Ketzer testified that one night, he followed the sounds of screaming to a cell where Smith's black Belgian shepherd was straining against its leash and barking at two cowering, teenage boys.

Ketzer said Smith laughingly told him afterward: "My buddy and I are having a contest to see if we can get them to [defecate on] themselves because we've already had some [urinate on] themselves."

Under cross-examination, Ketzer said he thought Smith was joking about the contest.

Smith, 24, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is accused of using his dog to harass, threaten and assault detainees in 2003 and 2004 -- during the same period in which guards at Abu Ghraib photographed inmates in sexually humiliating poses.

He could get as much as 24 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all 13 counts.

Another Army dog handler is charged with similar offenses. His trial is scheduled for May 22.

Prosecutors have portrayed them and others charged in the scandal as rogue soldiers who tormented prisoners for their own amusement during the night shift at Abu Ghraib.

Smith's lawyers contend he was following his training and instructions to help soften up subjects for interrogation at a time of heightened insurgency in and around the prison.

Soldiers at Abu Ghraib were on edge after a detainee acquired and fired a gun around Thanksgiving, according to testimony, while interrogators were under pressure to get information from three prisoners captured with deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in mid-December 2003.

Steven J. Pescatore, a civilian interrogator who worked for contractor CACI International Inc. at Abu Ghraib, testified Tuesday that an interrogation team created after Hussein's capture was given more liberal instructions on the use of harsh techniques, including dogs.

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