Judge: Commander of U.S. prisons in Iraq must testify
FORT HOOD, Texas – A military judge on Saturday ordered the former commander of U.S. prisons in Iraq to testify at the trial of a soldier who says he was ordered to abuse detainees at Abu Ghraib.
The judge, Col. James Pohl, said Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski’s testimony at the trial of Sgt. Javal Davis would be limited to conditions at Abu Ghraib and the interaction there between guards and military interrogators.
Davis has acknowledged stepping on the fingers and toes of detainees, but told investigators that military intelligence personnel appeared to approve. “We were told they had different rules,” he said, according to an Army report.
Pohl’s decision during a pretrial hearing came as the Navy said it was investigating new photographs obtained by The Associated Press that appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees. Other photos show what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.
Karpinski has denied knowing about any mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib until photographs were made public at the end of April showing hooded and naked prisoners being tormented by their U.S. captors. She was relieved of her command after abuses at the prison came to light.
In an interview with the AP, Karpinski said a “conspiracy” among top U.S. commanders left her to blame for the abuses. A report issued by an independent panel of nongovernment experts blamed Karpinski for leadership failures that “helped set the conditions at the prison which led to the abuses.”
Her attorney, Neal A. Puckett, said Saturday afternoon that he had not been notified of Pohl’s order. But he said Karpinski, who is now in the Army Reserves, gave a deposition in an earlier case.
“She’s always been willing to cooperate in any investigation. There’s be no reason for her not to testify,” he said.
Davis is among seven members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company charged with humiliating and assaulting prisoners at the Baghdad prison.
Pfc. Lynndie England, whose court-martial is scheduled for Jan. 18, also sought to call Karpinski as a witness, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The judge in her case rejected those requests, but allowed England’s attorneys to submit a deposition from Karpinski as evidence.
Davis, of Roselle, N.J., faces charges including conspiracy to maltreat detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and lying in official statements. He has denied hurting prisoners but said he was ordered to “soften them up.”
If convicted on all counts, he faces eight years in a military prison.
Pretrial hearings at Fort Hood on Saturday for Davis and Spc. Sabrina Harman were originally scheduled to begin next year in Baghdad. No reason was given for the decision to move the trials to the United States.
Paul Bergrin, a Newark, N.J., lawyer representing Davis, said Saturday that his client’s behavior was not unreasonable given the conditions he worked and lived under at Abu Ghraib: long hours, oppressive heat, frequent mortar attacks by insurgents and pressure from higher-ups to obtain useful information from detainees.
Asked if Davis is bearing blame for interrogation decisions made at top levels in his command, Bergrin said, “That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Bergrin sought a dozen detainees to tell military jurors that Davis treated them well and acted professionally. Pohl cut that number down to four.
Maj. Michael Holley and Capt. Christopher Graveline, the military prosecutors, are restricted under law from commenting on pending cases.
Harman was photographed standing behind naked, hooded Iraqis stacked in a human pyramid. She also was shown next to a dead body packed in ice giving thumbs-up signs with Spc. Charles Graner Jr., described as the ringleader.
Harman, of Lorton, Va., is accused of photographing some of the abuse, participating in sexual humiliation of naked prisoners, writing “rapist” on the leg of a detainee who then was forced to pose naked with other prisoners, and placing wires in the hands of a detainee and telling him he would be electrocuted if he fell off a box.
Harman’s attorney, Frank Spinner of Colorado Springs, Colo., said after her brief hearing Saturday that he has yet to lock in his defense strategy.
“I’m waiting to see what happens in (the Graner and Davis) cases,” he said.
Graner is scheduled to appear in a Fort Hood courtroom Monday. He is expected to seek dismissal of charges, alleging he cannot get a fair hearing because President Bush and military leaders have already said they believe he should be punished.
Graner, of Uniontown, Pa., was in the courtroom Saturday to watch Davis’ and Harman’s hearings. He later declined a request for comment.
Graner is scheduled for court-martial beginning Jan. 7. Davis’ trial is set to begin Feb. 2, and Harman’s is to begin March 30.