Sun, Jan 09, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Former Iraqi prisoners to testify in US soldier's trial

COURT MARTIAL One of several servicemen to face trial for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Charles Graner says he was `following orders' when he tortured detainees

AFP , FORT HOOD, TEXAS

Three former Iraqi detainees are to testify at the court martial of the accused leader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal that started at the Fort Hood US army base Friday.

The three, whose videotaped testimony should be presented next week, were on a list of 35 witnesses read out at the trial of Specialist Charles Graner, the most prominent of the soldiers accused of sexually, physically and psychologically abusing detainees at the prison near Baghdad in 2003.

Graner pleaded not guilty to the five charges of mistreatment of prisoners that carry a maximum sentence of 17-and-a-half years imprisonment.

Also among those to testify are four soldiers court-martialled last year in Bagdad and given sentences ranging from demotion in rank to eight years in prison for their role in the abuse scandal.

The witnesses further includes Specialist Joseph Darby, who blew the whistle on the scandal.

Graner, wearing his green dress uniform, sat quietly in the courtroom, showing no reaction as the witness list was announced.

But asked later how he felt, the 36-year-old military policeman told media outside the courtroom "the sun's still shining, the sky is blue and we're in America." Once the trial is over, he said, "I'll have a big smile on my face."

His civilian lawyer, Guy Womack, said his defense would be based on the argument that Graner was "following orders."

He argued the prison guards had been encouraged to "soften up" prisoners ahead of interrogation, and insisted those who gave the orders are the ones who should be on trial, and not the low-ranking soldiers who have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Womack said he expected officers "to lie about it," and said a number of others "are invoking their right to remain silent."

The court Friday selected a jury composed of two colonels, two lieutenant-colonels and six enlisted men, all combat veterans.

The defense used its right to dismiss one of the 12 jurors initially picked, and another was excused after admitting he would be prejudiced.

"As an army officer I was embarrassed by what I saw in the media," said Colonel Allen Batschelet.

Both Womack and the judge, Colonel James Pohl, asked the jurors whether they felt they could be fair given the widespread media coverage and the "high-level interest" in the case, expressed among others by President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Graner is seen in several of the Abu Ghraib photographs giving the thumbs up sign as he stood by a human pyramid of naked prisoners.

Among the allegations against him is that he forced prisoners to masturbate in front of each other to simulate oral sex, and photographed the acts. He is also accused of beating prisoners.

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