U.S. charges might target higher-ups

Army prosecutors looking at intelligence officers

August 25, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MANNHEIM, Germany - Military officials are considering filing criminal charges against senior intelligence officers who were in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, prosecutors said yesterday, for the first time acknowledging publicly that responsibility for the abuse of detainees last year likely went far beyond a military police unit.

The revelations came during court proceedings for Staff Sgts. Javal S. Davis and Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, members of the 372nd Military Police Company, based near Cumberland, Md., who face charges in the abuse case. Frederick's attorney confirmed yesterday that he has reached a plea bargain with prosecutors and is expected to admit guilt to at least one charge next month in Baghdad.

Attorneys for the two soldiers asked the judge hearing their cases, Col. James Pohl, to order immunity for several high-ranking intelligence officers who have refused to submit to interviews, citing their right against self-incrimination. The attorneys have argued that their clients were following orders from intelligence interrogators.

A Pentagon report released yesterday - while faulting senior defense officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, for creating an atmosphere in which such abuses could occur - stopped short of recommending sanctions.

Davis' attorney, Paul R. Bergrin, asked the judge to order immunity for Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who was in charge of interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and for Lt. Col. Steve L. Jordan, an intelligence officer who worked directly with those trying to extract information from detainees, and others at the prison.

The grant of immunity would compel them to testify, Bergrin argued in a heavily guarded courtroom on the base here, and could provide information that would clear his client.

Prosecutors argued, though, that there is "reason to believe" that intelligence officers were culpable in the abuses. Granting them immunity, the prosecutors argued, while still leaving open the possibility for prosecution under military law, would complicate any cases against them.

"All of these witnesses have reason to invoke" their right against self-incrimination, said Maj. Michael Holly, who is prosecuting Davis and Frederick.

"Are you telling me there is thought to criminally prosecuting these people?" Pohl asked.

"Yes, sir," Holly replied.

"This would appear to be critical information to the defendant - that this was condoned by higher-ups," the judge said. "You know where this is going - it's either pay me now or pay me later."

The judge gave prosecutors until Sept. 17 to charge the officers. Otherwise, he indicated, he would grant the requested immunity. By that time, a report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, which focuses on the role of military intelligence in the abuse of prisoners, is expected to have been made public and presented to Congress.

Pohl told the attorney for Frederick, Gary Myers, that his case was different because any grant of immunity for the officers - and for immunity requests made for lower-ranking personnel at the prison - would be used at a sentencing hearing, and not to determine Frederick's guilt, and that the burden for showing the need for immunity had not been met.

Pohl declined a request from Davis' attorney to compel Rumsfeld to submit to an interview, but said he would reconsider if Bergrin could show a link between the soldier's actions and any direction on interrogations that might have been given by the Pentagon.

Bergrin had argued that Rumsfeld pressured top commanders to come up with "actionable intelligence" from detainees to help stem mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Rumsfeld, Bergrin argued, had approved such interrogation techniques as hooding prisoners, stripping them naked and frightening them with dogs at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that those techniques were then used at Abu Ghraib.

"I'm not saying there is not a link," Pohl said. "I'm saying at this point you haven't shown me sufficient evidence. You have to make the links."

Bergin said later that he would renew his motion after transcripts from an interview this week with Gen. Barbara Fast, who oversaw intelligence in Iraq, could be printed. Her comments, the attorney argued, and those from others, clearly show that pressure was placed on them by Rumsfeld.

Frederick had announced Monday that he would plead guilty to one or more of the charges against him. He is charged with maltreating detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees, dereliction of duty and wrongfully committing an indecent act.

His attorney asked the judge yesterday to move his sentencing hearing, scheduled for Oct. 20, out of Baghdad, so family members and others who would testify about Frederick's character could be heard. The attorney said many who could testify would not do so if it meant traveling to a war zone.

The judge rejected that request, as he did for other defendants. All of the proceedings are to be held in Baghdad.

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