Confusion reigned inside Iraqi prison, Army major testifies

He appears at sentencing hearing for Md. reservist

February 03, 2005|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT HOOD, Tex. -- Testifying on behalf of a former Abu Ghraib guard facing jail time for abusing Iraqi detainees, an Army major who oversaw military police at the U.S.-run prison said yesterday that the soldiers worked under deplorable conditions made worse by basic confusion over who was in charge.

Maj. David W. DiNenna described the notorious Iraqi prison as filthy and overcrowded and said the military police soldiers who worked as guards, including convicted soldier Sgt. Javal S. Davis, received little instruction on how to handle often unruly detainees.

"We didn't have a training day. A training day would have meant the prisoners were going to have to watch themselves," DiNenna testified. He said that his e-mail pleas for more help went unanswered and he called the prison's command structure in late 2003 "extremely confusing."

His testimony came as defense lawyers sought to convince a military jury that Davis, the fifth soldier from a Maryland Army Reserve unit to be convicted in the far-reaching prison scandal, should not go to jail for his limited role in the detainee abuses.

In a guilty plea Tuesday, the New Jersey native and one-time Morgan State University student admitted stomping on the fingers and toes of hooded and handcuffed detainees who were suspected of starting a riot in one section of the prison on the night of Nov. 7, 2003.

Davis, a 27-year-old father of two who worked as a salesman for toolmaker Black & Decker before he was deployed to Iraq, did not appear in any of the scandal's widely circulated photographs. He told a military judge that the abuses he did participate in were brought on by the stress of working at the chaotic wartime prison, saying that on the night of the prison riot: "I just lost it."

"What you have going on at Abu Ghraib is almost a state of lawlessness, where anything goes at that time," lead defense attorney Paul W. Bergrin said yesterday.

The jury of Army officers and senior enlisted soldiers will recommend a sentence for Davis, who pleaded guilty to charges that carry a maximum punishment of 6 1/2 years in prison. But his attorney has said that a plea deal calls for a maximum punishment of 18 months, and under military law the jury's sentence would be imposed only if it were less than that.

Jurors are not told the conditions of the plea deal.

In a brief videotaped deposition played for jurors late yesterday, an Iraqi detainee still imprisoned at Abu Ghraib recalled Davis as a good prison guard who was well liked by the detainees.

"He used to play sports with us," the detainee, an accused kidnapper from Baghdad named Omas Jalal, said through a translator. "He used to, you know, make us laugh."

In a separate case yesterday that could reveal more details about Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities, a federal judge in New York ordered the CIA to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and turn over to watchdog groups records concerning the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

It was the second time in six months that the judge suggested the government was impeding the American Civil Liberties Union's quest to monitor government actions in the war on terrorism.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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