Army Specialist Charles Graner, the reputed ringleader of a band of rogue guards at Abu Ghraib prison, was convicted of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that sparked international outrage when photographs were released that showed reservists gleefully humiliating prisoners.
Graner, the first soldier to be court-martialed in the scandal, was convicted Friday of all five charges and faces up to 15 years behind bars. Four other soldiers have pleaded guilty in the scandal.
Graner stood at attention and looked straight ahead without expression as each verdict was read. His parents, Charles and Irma Graner, held hands tightly as they listened.
On his way out of the courthouse hours later, Graner flashed a thumbs-up to a large group of reporters waiting for him. He didn't testify during the trial, but his attorneys said he would yesterday in the sentencing phase.
Asked what he would say on the stand, Graner said, "The first thing I'm going to say is, `I swear to God.'"
The verdict came after less than five hours of deliberations and a 4 1/2-day trial in which prosecutors depicted Graner as a sadistic soldier who took great pleasure in seeing detainees suffer.
"It was for sport, for laughs," prosecutor Captain Chris Graveline told jurors in his closing argument Friday. "What we have here is plain abuse. There is no justification."
The jury began the sentencing phase Friday evening. The prosecution wrapped up its sentencing testimony quickly, but Graner's attorney called seven witnesses before testimony ended for the night.
Iraqi detainee Hussein Mutar, in videotaped testimony shown during the sentencing phase, said he had supported the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein until he was abused.
"The Americans came to free the Iraqi people from Saddam," Mutar said. "I didn't expect this to happen. This instance changed the entire picture of the American people."
Graner was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs. He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out, and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick.
The jury of four army officers and six senior enlisted men rejected the defense argument that Graner and other guards were merely following orders from intelligence agents at Abu Ghraib when they roughed up the detainees.
Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from Pennsylvania, faced 10 counts under five separate charges: Assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts and dereliction of duty. He was found guilty on all counts, except that one assault count was downgraded to battery.
Each count required at least seven of the 10 jurors to agree for conviction.
Graveline recounted the abuse allegations, buttressing many with photos and video taken inside the prison in October and November 2003.
One witness, Syrian prisoner Amin al-Sheikh, had characterized Graner as the "primary torturer," who merrily whistled, sang and laughed while brutalizing him and forced him to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of his Muslim faith.
Mutar, the Iraqi detainee, told the court during the guilt phase that he was among a group of prisoners stripped by Graner and other Abu Ghraib guards, stacked up naked in a human pyramid while female soldiers watched, and later told to masturbate.