Syria Genocide War Crimes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Abu Ghraib appeal centers on confusion at prison

By Associated Press
October 15, 2009, 12:18AM
DAVID DISHNEAU, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A soldier who was photographed giving a smiling "thumbs-up" beside a pyramid of naked Abu Ghraib detainees should have her criminal conviction overturned because parading prisoners in the nude was apparently U.S.Army policy, her lawyer told the military's highest court Wednesday.

Defense attorney Frank J. Spinner also told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces it was like "a fraternity-type prank" when former Army Spc. Sabrina D. Harman helped place a hooded detainee atop a box with electrical wires in his hands.

Prosecutor Army Capt. Stephanie Cooper countered that any reasonable observer would conclude that such conduct was abusive. She dismissed Spinner's claims that Harman and other military police soldiers were ill-trained as prison guards and confused about what was permitted at the prison in Iraq.

"It doesn't take any special training to know that it's wrong to put a hooded detainee on top of a box, put wires in his hands and tell him he'll be electrocuted if he falls off the box," Cooper said.

"There is no question," she added, "that this kind of conduct could have, and most likely did, cause mental suffering to the detainee."

The five judges could decide within several months whether to overturn any of Harman's convictions on six counts of maltreatment, conspiracy to maltreat and dereliction of duty.

Harman, 32, served about three months of a six-month prison sentence after her conviction in 2005. She also was reduced in rank to private and faces a bad-conduct discharge unless her appeal succeeds.

Before the 45-minute hearing began, Harman said one of her objectives is "hopefully to get all our lives back together." She was referring to the 11 soldiers convicted of crimes at Abu Ghraib and to all others whose reputations were tarnished by the scandal.

The prison west of Baghdad became the center of a global scandal in 2004 after photos were released showing U.S. soldiers sexually humiliating inmates. Outrage over the pictures fueled support for the insurgency as well as anti-American sentiment among Iraqis.

Wednesday's oral arguments focused on incidents in November 2003 that produced the scandal's most notorious images: the pile of naked prisoners and the hooded detainee standing atop a box.

Spinner argued that the photographs lack context. He said military commanders planted "seeds of confusion" by allowing detainees to be paraded naked with women's underwear on their heads to soften them up for interrogation.

"It appears to have been Army policy to engage in those acts," Spinner said. He referred to testimony suggesting that's what military intelligence wanted.

"People read and see into those pictures, I would maintain, more than would really be there," Spinner said.

But Cooper said the detainees could only have been forced into such situations.

"No reasonable detainee would want to be abused and want pictures to record that humiliating conduct," she said.

Harman is the second Abu Ghraib defendant whose case has reached the military high court. Lawyers for former Army dog handler Sgt. Michael Smith presented oral arguments last week.

Harman was accompanied at the hearing by former Spc. Megan Ambuhl Graner, who was discharged from the Army after pleading guilty to failing to prevent or report maltreatment. Graner said she hopes a successful appeal by Harman will bolster the defense of her husband, former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr., who is serving a 10-year sentence as the alleged ringleader of the abuse.