FORT HOOD, Texas - A military jury handed a 10-year prison sentence yesterday to Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., the convicted ringleader in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, who hours earlier tried to recast himself from the witness stand as a conscientious soldier who complained to superiors about the harsh treatment of detainees.
"I didn't enjoy anything I did there," Graner said in his first detailed comments on the international scandal touched off last year by graphic photographs of grinning U.S. soldiers subjecting Iraqi detainees to humiliating abuses.
"I did what I did," he said. "A lot of it was wrong. A lot of it was criminal."
Graner avoided the maximum punishment of 15 years in prison, but the 10-year sentence was the harshest any soldier charged in the scandal has received. Four soldiers have pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from probation to eight years in prison. Three others are awaiting trial.
Late yesterday afternoon, Graner, a 36-year-old former civilian prison guard from Uniontown, Pa., left the court building still wearing his dark-green dress uniform but with shackles on his wrists and ankles and under the escort of military police soldiers.
"I was a soldier," he said as he was led away. "If I did anything wrong, here I am."
One of seven Army Reserve soldiers from Maryland's 372nd Military Police Company to face charges, Graner was the first to test at a trial claims that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were directed by civilian and military interrogators who wanted prisoners "softened up" for questioning.
He was convicted late Friday on each of five charges against him, including assault, indecent acts and dereliction of duty.
The swift court-martial closed what had been an embarrassing chapter in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq since the photos showing naked, hooded detainees first emerged.
But it yielded few new details about the events at the prison or the scope of the abuses, and it again raised the question of whether any higher-ranking officers will be charged.
A military prosecutor, Maj. Michael Holley, said each case must be dealt with on its own terms. Yesterday, he urged the maximum sentence in the case against Graner, saying his abuse of Iraqi prisoners had tarnished the honor of the Army and hurt its moral standing in the world.
"You have to be in the Army to know, we exist on honor," Holley said.
In a joint statement with fellow prosecutor Capt. Chris Graveline, Holley said later yesterday: "We think it is important that the world was able to observe this court-martial."
No pay or benefits
As part of the sentence, Graner also will be dishonorably discharged after he serves his prison sentence and must forfeit all pay and benefits.
Lead defense attorney Guy Womack said his case was hurt before the trial began, when the presiding judge blocked a number of senior military leaders from testifying, either because they were deemed irrelevant or because they were under investigation and had invoked their right against self-incrimination.
"Perhaps I'm being cynical, but my impression is nothing will ever come from those investigations," Womack said.
Irma Graner said her family would keep working to shed light on the scandal that she said had unfairly snared her only son.
"You know, President Bush went on TV and said, `Seven bad apples disgraced the nation.' Well, President Bush and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld disgraced the nation," Irma Graner said.
"We're going to fight until the truth comes out. You know it's the higher-ups who should be on trial."
In addition to the seven members of the 372nd, one low-ranking military intelligence soldier, Pvt. Armin Cruz, was charged and has pleaded guilty in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuses.
A Pentagon report in August found that 23 military intelligence personnel and four civilian contractors were directly involved in the mistreatment of detainees and should be investigated.
In his testimony yesterday, Graner said he was reluctant at first to carry out orders from interrogators who told prison guards to keep detainees in the nude, yell at them, restrict their meals or handcuff them to their cells if they talked.
"A lot of our off-the-wall stuff came from civilian interrogators, but there also was a lot of crazy stuff from some of the soldiers who were [intelligence] handlers," Graner said.
He testified that he complained to many of his superiors but was consistently told to follow the directions of military intelligence. Graner also said he took photographs to document what was happening in the Iraqi prison, a chaotic place where detainees heard voices, played in their own feces, spit at guards and slammed their heads against the cell bars.
In nearly three hours of testimony, though, Graner did not discuss directly the scenes depicted in the graphic detainee photographs that stirred anti-American sentiment across the globe and for which he was convicted.
A nervous smile