Witness supports soldier's claims

Former Army reservist testifies that England was following orders

August 31, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A former Army reservist who served at Abu Ghraib with Maryland's scandal-scarred 372nd Military Police Company testified yesterday that interrogators at the prison encouraged some detainee abuses and when confronted about their actions bluntly declared: "We're military intelligence; we know what we're doing."

Kenneth A. Davis of Hagerstown, a sergeant with the 372nd until he left the military this year, testified as a military court hearing resumed here to determine whether Pfc. Lynndie R. England will face a court-martial in the scandal where she remains one of the most visible figures.

Davis' testimony followed the release last week of a Pentagon report that found more than two dozen intelligence soldiers and civilian contractors participated in prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. Both could bolster England's claims that she and the other low-ranking reservists charged in the scandal were just following orders.

But the prosecutor urged a military judge to recommend that England stand trial, saying she is not vindicated by evidence of wrongdoing by additional soldiers in Iraq.

"If other people engaged in misconduct, they certainly should be punished, and that's a good thing," Capt. John Benson said yesterday. "Appropriate actions are being taken. But somebody has to go first, and somebody has to go last, and somebody has to go in the middle."

What role military intelligence personnel played in the abuse scandal has been a central question since the widely published photographs surfaced four months ago showing Iraqi prisoners stripped naked and forced into sexually humiliating positions or cornered by snarling military dogs.

England, 21, who is about eight months' pregnant by the scandal's alleged ringleader, Charles A. Graner, appears in several of the photographs. One shows her holding a leash tied to the neck of a naked Iraqi prisoner. Other pictures show her grinning and pointing to a prisoner's genitals, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, or flashing a thumbs-up sign near a pile of naked detainees.

The first soldier to plead guilty in the scandal, Pvt. Jeremy C. Sivits, testified yesterday that England was a willing participant in the abuses, which he portrayed as the late-night antics of fellow soldiers who knew they would be in trouble if caught. On the night when photos were taken of naked detainees piled into a pyramid, Sivits said, he saw her stomp on the prisoners' toes and hands.

"Corporal Graner, he seemed like he was enjoying it; Pfc. England, she was laughing, seemed to be having a good time," said Sivits, whose rank was reduced from specialist to private after he pleaded guilty to photographing some of the abuses.

Seven soldiers from the 372nd have been charged in the scandal. In addition to Sivits, one other soldier -- Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick -- has indicated he will plead guilty.

Yesterday's testimony from Davis, 33, now a private investigator, was the first direct evidence in the hearing to support England's claims that the abuses were led or directed by higher-ranking military intelligence officers.

Davis said Graner once confided to him that he was hoarse from yelling at prisoners and conflicted about having to do things in the prison he found morally and ethically wrong.

Then don't do it, Davis said he told Graner.

"You don't understand," Graner replied, according to Davis' testimony. "Every time there's an explosion they ... say, `That's another American who loses a life -- you need to help us."

In one instance, Davis said, he saw two military intelligence soldiers directing the abuses of three naked detainees who had been handcuffed together -- an event that appears in some of the most widely publicized photographs. A military prosecutor in Germany said last week the two intelligence soldiers shown in those pictures, Spc. Armin J. Cruz and Spc. Roman Krol, could face criminal charges.

But Davis said he was rebuffed by his platoon leader, 1st Lt. Lewis C. Raeder, when he raised concerns the next day. "He said, `Well, they're military intelligence -- let them do their job,'" Davis testified.

Defense attorneys for England had asked the hearing's presiding officer, Col. Denise J. Arn, to allow them to call a long list of witnesses, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking military leaders. Arn rejected every witness except for Davis.

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