Judge to rule on witnesses in prisoner abuse hearing

Soldier's lawyers list 160, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, other officials

August 08, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Prosecutors urged a military judge yesterday to reject defense efforts to call high-ranking administration officials and military leaders as witnesses in a pretrial hearing in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, saying that no additional testimony "is going to change the fact that those pictures exist."

Defense lawyers for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, one of seven soldiers from a Western Maryland-based Army reserve unit charged in the scandal, said the witnesses would help show that the prison abuses documented in the now-notorious photos from Abu Ghraib prison were led or directed by higher-ranking military intelligence officers.

Col. Denise J. Arn, an Army reserve judge who is serving as the presiding officer at England's Article 32 hearing - the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury proceeding - said she would rule later on how many, if any, of the defense's 160 proposed witnesses should be called.

The list includes Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a number of military officials connected to the scandal.

Arn indicated that the hearing would reconvene at some point to hear at least one additional witness: Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, the only one of the accused soldiers who has pleaded guilty. Arn said she would conclude the hearing as soon as possible; defense attorney Richard Hernandez said court proceedings could resume the week of Aug. 30.

The hearing will determine whether England, 21, faces a court-martial on charges of detainee abuse and indecency that could carry a maximum sentence of 38 years in prison.

Capt. John Benson, one of three military prosecutors handling England's case, said that the defense was overreaching and that enough testimony had been presented for Arn to make a determination about whether the criminal charges against England should go forward.

"We can't just have a complete fishing expedition where we talk to everyone," Benson said.

Responding at one point to a defense request to call Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, who oversaw military police units at the prison, Benson said: "Lots of people were there. We can't call every person that was on Abu Ghraib. ... There is nothing he can tell us that is going to change the fact that these pictures exist."

The four days of testimony presented last week by military prosecutors produced no direct evidence to support the claims of the accused soldiers that the abuses they were photographed participating in were led or directed by higher-ranking military intelligence officers, as England and her defense team contend.

But the testimony, from 25 witnesses, showed the daily chaos and confusion at the U.S.-run prison late last year, among both military police and military intelligence. One guard supervisor said he was "shooting from the hip" as he oversaw guards at the cellblock, and lower-ranking soldiers acknowledged that bawdy humor and sexual pranks were standard fare in their living quarters.

Military intelligence supervisors testified that they took care to make sure interrogations were run by the book, but their testimony also showed that they were unaware of every tactic used by their operatives or even where all of the interviews were being conducted in the sprawling facility near Baghdad.

Among the additional witnesses defense attorneys asked for yesterday was Kenneth A. Davis, a former sergeant with the 372nd, who told the Associated Press on Friday that military intelligence officers were directing the abuse. Defense attorney Richard A. Hernandez said defense lawyers had received no prior information about Davis from the government.

Arn has said little during the weeklong hearing and has given few hints to her thinking. She asked witnesses a handful of questions, focusing in two instances on the issue of age.

Arn asked England's direct supervisor in Iraq, Spc. Matthew Bolinger, if he knew the ages of the two alleged ringleaders in the abuse scandal - Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick and Spc. Charles A. Graner, who also was England's wartime boyfriend.

Graner, at 35, is 14 years older than England. Frederick is 37.

At another point, Arn asked an Army medic who stumbled upon one of the abuse scenes how she determined that someone in the group must have sanctioned the activity: "Did somebody look like they were in charge? Was there somebody there who was older?" Arn asked.

"They were old enough," the medic, Spc. Helga-Margot Aldape-Morena, replied.

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