Army sets 1st court-martial in abuses

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits to face military trial May 19 in Baghdad

Crisis In Iraq

May 10, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Army officials announced yesterday that they would convene the first court-martial in what could be a string of public military trials in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, 24, is scheduled for court-martial May 19 in Baghdad. He is one of seven reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company based near Cumberland who are charged in the scandal.

Sivits, of Hyndman, Pa., 12 miles north of Cumberland, faces charges that include conspiracy to maltreat detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect detainees from abuse, and maltreatment of detainees.

His parents have told reporters that Sivits appears in the background of some of the photographs that depict soldiers forcing hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners to perform degrading sex acts and other acts the Army deemed sadistic.

Army commanders in Iraq have said that Sivits might have taken some of the photos that have shocked the world and damaged American credibility.

Sivits declined to comment yesterday. This month, his father, Daniel W. Sivits, said that the Army had trained his son to repair vehicles, not guard prisoners, and that he was unprepared for working at a military prison camp during a war.

"Why was a mechanic allowed to handle prisoners?" Daniel Sivits asked. "Where was their training? Who was their supervisor? Where was the leadership?"

Despite repeated vows by officials to be publicly accountable in a case that has stained the Army and raised questions about training and harsh interrogation tactics, military commanders here refused to divulge the name of Sivits' lawyers or release documents detailing the charges. They said charge sheets might be made public soon.

Article 32 hearings, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, have been completed for at least three of the soldiers charged in the abuse, which occurred between October and December last year at the prison west of Baghdad, but no recommendations for further courts-martial have been made.

Other soldiers could face more serious charges than Sivits faces. Some are prominently seen in the photographs; one grinning soldier is pictured pointing to the genitals of prisoners and dragging another naked detainee by a leash. The lawyer for one soldier, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, has threatened to put the entire military on trial, saying that his client was following orders.

Officials would not say yesterday why Sivits is the first to be court-martialed.

Sivits faces what is called a special court-martial. If convicted, a judge could throw Sivits out of the Army and place a "bad conduct discharge" on his permanent file.

Under a special court-martial, the judge can impose a sentence no greater than one year in prison, a reduction in rank of one grade, a reduction of pay for two months and a fine.

Because the penalties are less than those of a general court-martial - which depending on the offense can carry sentences of life in prison and even death - Sivits did not undergo the Article 32 preliminary hearing.

Instead, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, the second-in-charge of military operations in Iraq who is reviewing all the prisoner abuse cases, referred Sivits to a court-martial based on an army investigative report.

Sivits will be allowed to be represented by a civilian or a military lawyer, and he can choose whether his case is heard by a three-member jury of senior army commanders or a military judge.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters yesterday that there are three investigations under way into the abuse. One involves the potential criminal acts of the soldiers; another is examining their commanders; and the third is looking into the role that military intelligence officers played in setting standards for interrogations that could have prompted the abuse.

But Kimmitt said that he does not expect the case to grow far beyond the seven soldiers already implicated. Six additional soldiers have been reprimanded but do not face criminal charges. "We still think there is a very small number of guards involved," Kimmitt said. "It could expand a little."

The court-martial is tentatively scheduled to be held at the Baghdad Convention Center, which is being used by the coalition forces for media briefings and other meetings. It is in a secured compound that includes the Al Rashid Hotel and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Kimmitt said this location was chosen because it is wired for television, and many reporters, particularly members of the Arab press, have offices there and ready access to military spokesmen.

"We are trying to make this as transparent as possible," Kimmitt said. "We are not trying to hide anything."

Though military commanders repeatedly say that the abuse is limited to the bad actions of a few, Army reports and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have warned that even worse photos and narratives could become public.

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