updated 3/17/2006 8:07:04 PM ET 2006-03-18T01:07:04

A military jury began deliberating Friday in the case against an Army dog handler accused of using his barking animal to torment prisoners at Abu Ghraib for his own amusement.

Sgt. Michael Smith, 24, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., could get up to 24½ years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The jury met for about six hours before going home. Deliberations were to resume Monday morning.

The government contended Smith and another canine handler competed to make terrified prisoners at the Iraqi prison soil themselves. The defense argued that Smith believed he was following orders in a chaotic and confusing environment.

An Army prosecutor, Maj. Christopher Graveline, said in his closing argument that Smith violated training on treating prisoners humanely and using the minimum amount of force necessary. Graveline showed the jury enlarged photographs from 2003 and 2004 of Smith’s black Belgian shepherd menacing cowering detainees.

“American soldiers don’t do that,” Graveline said. “And we don’t do it because we think it’s fun. And we don’t do it for our laughs. And we don’t take pictures of it.”

Defense: ‘Lack of clear guidance’
But defense attorney Capt. Mary G. McCarthy countered: “He’s on trial for his life for things he did because he thought he was supposed to — things he did because there was a lack of clear guidance.”

She said that all Smith’s dog did to prisoners was bark at them. One witness’ testimony that the dog appeared to have nipped a prisoner’s wrist was not corroborated.

Smith told investigators that he and Sgt. Santos A. Cardona used their unmuzzled dogs to help military intelligence interrogators. Cardona, 31, of Fullerton, Calif., is to stand trial May 22.

Testimony in the trial revealed conflicting notions among prison workers about how dogs were supposed to be used and what the approval process was.

Abu Ghraib’s former military intelligence chief, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, testified that the dogs were to be used “to assist in setting conditions for interrogations.” Pappas said that he approved a one-time use of muzzled dogs inside interrogation booths but later learned he lacked the authority to give such an order.

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