Reservist pleads guilty in abuse

SUN JOURNAL

Plea deal: One of seven soldiers from a Maryland Army Reserve unit accused in the Iraqi prison scandal tells a military judge, `I did it.'

February 02, 2005|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT HOOD, Texas - His fellow soldiers had been wounded by crude explosives and threatened by inmates who hid homemade knives in their cells at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, and when confronted with a group of Iraqi detainees suspected of inciting a jailhouse riot one night in November 2003, Sgt. Javal S. Davis said yesterday: "I just lost it."

Davis, 27, one of seven soldiers from a Maryland Army Reserve unit accused in the Iraqi prison scandal, admitted to a military judge that he stomped on the fingers and toes of hooded and handcuffed detainees who were piled on the cellblock floor. He said he also fell on the prisoners with the full weight of his upper body, then lied months later to investigators who asked if he had ever hit detainees in anger.

"I wasn't trying to hurt them. I was more trying to scare them. But I did it," Davis said yesterday as he abandoned plans to argue at trial that the detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib were ordered by intelligence operatives. Instead, he pleaded guilty to battery and other charges in a deal with military prosecutors.

A jury of Army officers and enlisted soldiers will be seated today to recommend a sentence for Davis, a New Jersey native who attended Morgan State University in the late 1990s and briefly trained for the Baltimore police force.

His attorney has said that the plea deal calls for a maximum punishment of 18 months, but under military law the jury's sentence would be imposed if it were less than that.

Davis did not appear in any of the scandal's widely circulated photographs. But he helped frame a defense for them early on when he told investigators a year ago that intelligence officers working at the prison routinely would tell the military-police guards to "loosen this guy up" or "make sure he has a bad night."

In a 90-minute exchange with a military judge yesterday, Davis said in his first extensive public comments on the scandal that his role in what has become an embarrassing chapter in the U.S.-led Iraq war reflected the frustrations of work life inside the chaotic, wartime prison.

"That week was very bad. That day was bad," Davis told the judge, Col. James L. Pohl. He said some soldiers in his unit had been wounded with an IED, or improvised explosive device. "Some of them are still recovering from their injuries to this day."

Davis said that on the night of Nov. 7, 2003, another soldier told him that prison rioters had thrown a brick that hit a female soldier in the side of the head. Davis said he had grown tired of trying to care for detainees who kept trying to attack their U.S. captors, and he took it out on the suspected rioter that night.

"It just got to me, sir," Davis told the judge. "It hurt me inside, and I just lost it."

Davis said he saw other abuses at the prison that he did not report. He told the judge that he witnessed military and civilian interrogators roughing up detainees and, in some instances, using unmuzzled military working dogs to intimidate prisoners.

Pohl asked Davis if he ever saw the dogs bite detainees.

"What I saw? No," Davis answered. "What I heard? Yes, sir."

Asked for other specifics about who he saw abusing detainees, Davis named only one person - former Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, a fellow member of the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company who has pleaded guilty in the scandal and received a sentence of eight years in military prison.

In addition to Davis and Frederick, three other members of the unit have been convicted in the scandal. The reputed ringleader of the group, former Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., was the only soldier to contest the charges at trial. A military panel here convicted him last month, and he received 10 years in prison, the toughest sentence so far.

In a separate case yesterday, a low-level military intelligence soldier from Massachusetts pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mistreating detainees who were forced to crawl naked on the prison floor and who were tormented when water was poured over them and a Nerf football thrown at them.

Spc. Roman Krol, 23, a short, slight Russian immigrant, was sentenced to 10 months confinement after he said that he wanted to "apologize to Americans for any embarrassment I caused the country."

One other low-ranking intelligence soldier, Spc. Armin Cruz, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to eight months confinement. And two soldiers from the 372nd, Pfc. Lynndie R. England and Spc. Sabrina Harman, are awaiting trial.

Harman watched yesterday's proceedings from the gallery in the small military courtroom along with Davis' parents, who are expected to testify in their son's behalf during his sentencing proceedings.

Lead defense attorney Paul W. Bergrin, a fast-talking New Jersey lawyer who once served as the personal lawyer for rap star and Newark native Queen Latifah, said outside the courtroom that Davis' decision to plead guilty was not influenced by the jury in Graner's case - which flatly rejected the defense strategy of following orders.

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