Soldier's life at home sits in limbo

Reservist: Accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners, the Pennsylvania man left behind two children and a job as a corrections officer.

Crisis In Iraq

May 08, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes and Ariel Sabar | Gus G. Sentementes and Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

UNIONTOWN, Pa. - There are always things left for Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. to do whenever he returns from Iraq to this faded town driven in the past by a booming coal-mining industry.

He has a steady job as a corrections officer waiting for him at a nearby state prison. His home, on a leafy street lined with neat, modest houses, remains frozen in time, a still-life of renovation projects begun before duty called last March. He also left behind his two children, who live in the area with his former wife after a bitter divorce.

For now, Graner's life remains in limbo. He and Pfc. Lynndie R. England, his girlfriend, face courts-martial, accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Graner, 35, and England, 21, are among seven Army reservists who belong to the 372nd Military Police Company in Cresaptown implicated in an investigation of prisoner abuses in an Iraqi prison. The case has roiled U.S. public opinion and stoked widespread anger in the Middle East as photos of Iraqi men enduring physical abuse and humiliation have been steadily disseminated in recent weeks - and Graner is in several of them.

For his role in the alleged abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Graner faces military charges of maltreatment and indecent acts, his Houston attorney, Guy L. Womack, has said.

Graner and other accused reservists "were merely following orders," Womack has said, adding that the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib "was being controlled and devised by the military intelligence community and other governmental agencies, including the CIA."

In a 53-page Army report, which details abuses at the prison, Graner is singled out by several witnesses.

A civilian contract translator, who also faces charges, told investigators that Graner and another reservist ordered detainees to do "strange exercises." He forced them to slide on their stomachs and jump up and down, threw water on them, and handcuffed and shackled their hands and legs together, and then stacked them naked on top of one another, the report said.

The charges against Graner have brought national attention to Uniontown, which prides itself on being the birthplace of Gen. George C. Marshall, who built up the Army during World War II, and formulated an economic aid plan afterward to help rebuild Western Europe. A gigantic banner depicting Marshall - with his steely gaze looking over the town - hangs from one of Uniontown's tallest buildings.

B. Scott Detweiler, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce president, said that Graner's involvement has been the talk of this small town of about 12,500.

"They've been splashing it around pretty good," Detweiler said, referring to local news coverage. "There's a lot of talk, but like anything else, until it gets proven one way or the other, people shouldn't prejudge."

One of Graner's neighbors, Helen Queer, was surprised to learn Graner is facing charges. Queer, a 76-year-old semi-retired housekeeper, lives a few doors from Graner.

"I thought, `On our street?'" she said. "This has been a very quiet and decent street," she said.

To neighbors and acquaintances, Graner was a man who worked hard, visited with his children when he could, and hammered away on home improvement projects in his spare time.

"We can sit here but you don't know nothing till you're put in that situation in a foreign country with people shooting at you," said Tom Zavada, 58, who lives on Graner's street. "You have to adapt."

Zavada described Graner as a hard worker. He often volunteered for overtime at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, a maximum-security prison in southwestern Pennsylvania, to earn extra money to pay his mortgage and child support, he said.

And Graner would have sleepovers at his house, inviting Zavada's grandchildren whenever his two children visited. He would take them fishing or to an amusement park, Zavada said.

Before Graner left for Iraq, his ex-wife, Staci, allowed their two children to visit him for a month, Zavada said. Their 10-year marriage ended in 2000 after she accused him of physical abuse, according to local court records.

On three occasions, from 1997 - when they first separated - to 2001, his wife sought temporary protective orders against him, the records showed.

In her request for an order in 1997, she said Graner threatened to kill her, court papers showed. In another request a year later, she told a judge: "Last night, I woke up, it was approximately 1:00, 1:30. I walked out toward my kitchen and [Graner] was crouched in my laundry room and jumped up to scare me. I just don't think this is normal behavior and he does frighten me. I don't want him anywhere near me."

Graner's ex-wife could not be reached for comment.

But Graner eventually seemed to put his failed marriage behind him and found a new romantic interest, Lynndie England, apparently through his involvement with the 372nd Military Police Company.

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