High-ranking official to testify in Abu Ghraib trial

Several other key figures in scandal invoked right against self-incrimination

December 05, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT HOOD, Texas - The former commander of U.S. prisons in Iraq can testify at the trial of a soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, but a military judge rejected defense efforts yesterday to call several other high-profile witnesses because they have invoked their right against self-incrimination.

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski would be the highest-ranking official to testify so far in the detainee abuse cases against seven soldiers from a Maryland-based Army Reserve unit. She is expected to give only narrow testimony about conditions at Abu Ghraib and the relationship between military police and intelligence operatives.

Her appearance at the February trial of Sgt. Javal S. Davis would be significant, though, in part because other key figures in the abuse scandal have refused to testify to avoid implicating themselves - including Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who commanded the military intelligence units at Abu Ghraib late last year.

Despite a string of reports and courtroom testimony pointing to wider culpability, prosecutions in the abuse scandal remain tightly focused on the seven soldiers originally charged from 372nd Military Police Company. One intelligence soldier also has been charged, and another is expected to face charges by the end of the year, a military prosecutor said yesterday.

"Isn't that amazing that no officer has been charged with any crime at Abu Ghraib," prominent military defense attorney Frank J. Spinner, who represents Spc. Sabrina D. Harman in the Abu Ghraib trials, said to reporters yesterday.

Karpinski, Pappas and other officers received letters of reprimand early in the investigation. At yesterday's court hearings, lawyers noted that others connected to the scandal have invoked their rights against self-incrimination - including other members of the intelligence unit and the 372nd military police unit and at least one civilian contractor.

An investigator with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command who has been implicated in some of the abuses also is expected to refuse to testify, although the investigator, Sgt. Ricardo Romero, has denied any wrongdoing, lawyers said.

Still, Spinner noted, no one has been charged directly in the death of an Iraqi prisoner during a CIA interrogation session at Abu Ghraib last fall. Photos of the detainee's body, packed in ice, later circulated showing Harman and another accused soldier, Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., grinning next to the corpse - but neither soldier was implicated in the man's death.

"How can making a bunch of Iraqis stack up naked in a pyramid compare with someone dying at the prison?" Spinner said after yesterday's pretrial hearings for Harman and Davis. "The soldiers - the enlisted soldiers - they're in the photographs, and that's why they're being prosecuted."

Members of a Navy SEAL team have been charged in connection with the detainee's death for assaulting him when he was picked up for questioning. In contrast to the spotlight on the accused soldiers from the 372nd, however, the military has refused to identify the SEALS, pointing to the sensitive nature of their work.

The military said yesterday it had opened a new criminal investigation after the Associated Press obtained new photographs that appear to show Navy SEALS in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees. Some of the photos dated to May 2003, about six months before most of the photographed abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred.

Of the seven soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company charged in the Iraq prison scandal, three have pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from a reduction in rank to eight years in prison.

The judge at yesterday's hearing, Army Col. James L. Pohl, set a Feb. 2 trial date for Davis and a March 28 trial date for Harman. Graner, who also is scheduled to face a court martial at Fort Hood, is scheduled to be in court tomorrow for a pretrial hearing.

Frequently described as the ringleader of the abuses, Graner slipped into the back of the courtroom yesterday and listened intently to the proceedings, occasionally taking notes in a small green book.

His trial is expected to start next month, as is the court martial of his wartime girlfriend, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who gave birth in October to their son. England's court martial will be held at Fort Bragg, N.C., where a military judge last week said prosecutors could use as evidence a statement England made in January saying the photographs were taken "just for fun."

Davis, 27, and Harman, 26, have maintained that the detainee abuses were directed by higher-ranking officers and intelligence operatives from the earliest stages of the investigation, when Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was conducting his probe of prisoner treatment that became public when the scandal unfolded in the spring.

Davis' defense attorney, Paul Wayne Bergrin, said yesterday that Davis followed orders he considered morally questionable because he did not think he had any other choice.

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