BAGHDAD, Iraq — Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits received the maximum penalty Wednesday — a year in prison, a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge — in the first court-martial stemming from mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
Sivits, 24, who pleaded guilty to four abuse charges, broke down in tears at his special court-martial as he apologized for taking pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners’ being humiliated.
His lawyer, 1st Lt. Stanley Martin, had appealed to the judge, Col. James Pohl, to be lenient, saying Sivits could be rehabilitated and had made a contribution to society in the past.
Sivits himself pleaded with Pohl to allow him to remain in the Army, which he said had been his life’s goal. “I have learned huge lessons, sir,” he said. “You can’t let people abuse people like they have done.”
Conviction includes cruelty
Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md., was found guilty of two counts of mistreating detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect them from abuse, cruelty and forcing a prisoner “to be positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers,” a military briefer said after the proceedings.
The U.S. military appeals court in Washington will review the conviction and sentence. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, can dismiss or reduce the sentence.
Military officials said Sivits would be transferred to a military regional confinement facility to serve his sentence but did not specify which facility.Video: Generals face tough questions
He had been expected to get a relatively light sentence and then testify against six other members of his units. But prosecutors asked Pohl to impose the harshest sentence despite Sivits’ willingness to provide details about the crimes of other defendants, saying Sivits knew that abuse was banned by the Geneva Conventions, the series of international treaties governing the treatment of prisoners of war.
Earlier Wednesday, three other members of Sivits’ company accused in the abuse — Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. “Chip” Frederick and Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. — appeared for arraignment in the courtroom at the Baghdad Convention Center, in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
The three waived their rights to have charges read in court, and their pleas were deferred pending another hearing June 21 after defense lawyers complained that they had been denied access to two victims of abuse who were government witnesses. Pohl asked prosecutors for an explanation.
While Sivits faced what the Army calls a special court-martial, similar to a misdemeanor trial, the six others who have been charged will probably face general courts-martial, which can result in more severe punishments.
Arab media skeptical of proceedings
Arab television stations appeared deeply skeptical of the proceedings, with reporters from the satellite networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya questioning why cameras were barred from the courtroom.
Others demanded that higher-ranking U.S. officials be punished. “Those who are executing the laws and the orders are not the problem. ... Punishment of the officials who gave the orders is what matters,” Samer al-Ubedi, who claimed that his brother died in U.S. custody, said on al-Jazeera. “The punishment must be as severe as the crime.”Video: Discussing the verdict
Two senior Iraqi officials — Governing Council President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer and Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi — attended part of Sivits’ trial.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, said a fair and impartial trial “will go a far way in demonstrating to people that, yes, these pictures did happen, yes, these acts did happen, but we’re taking the right corrective action to investigate, prosecute and bring to trial those accused of these crimes. ”
1st Lt. Stanley L. Martin, Sivits’ lawyer, had expressed concern about the huge media coverage of the trial, asking the judge, “Can you make a fair decision?”
Pohl replied: “Just because it’s on TV, it doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Soldier describes abuses
In an emotional description of events at Abu Ghraib on the evening of Nov. 8, Sivits said he was asked by Frederick to accompany him to the prison facility.
Pausing in his struggle to speak, Sivits told Pohl that he was on detail outside Abu Ghraib and had done some maintenance work on generators when Frederick approached him. Sivits took a detainee with him, and when he arrived at the scene where the crimes took place, there were seven other detainees.
“I heard Corporal Graner yelling in Arabic at the detainees,” he said. “I saw one of the detainees lying on the floor. They were laying there on the floor, sandbags over their heads.”
Davis and another soldier, Pfc. Lynndie England, were “stamping on their toes and hands.”
“Graner punched the detainee in the head or temple area,” Sivits said. “I said, ‘I think you might have knocked him out.’ ”
Sivits also said: “Graner complained that he had injured his hand and said, “Damn, that hurt.’ ”
Sivits said all prisoners were then stripped and forced to form a human pyramid.
He quoted one of the six other accused soldiers, whom he did not identify, as saying guards were “told to keep doing what they were doing by military intelligence.” He added, however, that he did not believe the soldier.
Martin, Sivits’ lawyer, told Pohl that Sivits had reached a pre-trial agreement with the prosecution, presumably to testify against others accused in the case.
In Sivits’ tiny hometown, Hyndman, Pa., more than 200 residents wore yellow ribbons and clutched small U.S. flags during a candlelight vigil to support him.
His father, Daniel Sivits, made a brief statement.
“I want to make explicitly clear [that] Jeremy, no matter what, is still my son. We still love him,” Daniel Sivits said. “I am veteran of the Vietnam War, and I want to say one thing — Jeremy is always a vet in my heart and in my mind.”
Others’ defense: Following orders
Graner’s lawyer, Guy Womack, said Wednesday that his client was following orders at the prison and that officers from military intelligence and the CIA and civilian contractors were directing the abuse.
“The photographs were being staged and created by these intelligence officers and, of course, we have the two photographs that prove that they were present and supervising,” Womack said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
He said Graner sought clarification of his orders and complained to his superiors and to military intelligence officers about what he was being asked to do.
“All of them consistently said that he was to follow the order and not question it. So he didn’t,” the lawyer said. Warner added that Sivits also was simply following orders.
“Specialist Sivits ... should have gone to trial and been acquitted like the others,” Womack said. “I feel sorry for the young specialist pleading guilty.”
Rights groups barred from court martial
The U.S. military allowed news coverage of the proceedings in the hope that it would demonstrate U.S. resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.
Nine Arab newspapers, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are among 34 news organizations that were allowed to have reporters in the courtroom. No audio or TV recordings were allowed, however.
Human Rights Watch said U.S. occupation authorities also refused to allow Iraqi and international human rights groups to attend the court martial.
“Barring human rights monitors from the court martial is a bad decision in its own right,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement. “It also sends a terrible signal to Iraqis and others deeply concerned about what transpired in Abu Ghraib.”
The case has been closely followed by many of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, with varied opinions.
“If these people are guilty, it should come out,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tracey Reddish, 34. “Court-martials are very fair.”
Another Marine, Lance Cpl. Kyle Morgan, 20, said the case was pushed by “the people in Washington sitting in their cushy chairs, judging our men here who are trying to save lives. ... But the politicians are just worried about their own necks.”
The scandal broke last month with the broadcast and publication of pictures of prisoners suffering sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of U.S. military police serving as guards at Abu Ghraib. One photo showed a naked, hooded prisoner on a box with wires fastened to his hands and his genitals. According to Fredericks’ indictment, the detainee was told that he would be electrocuted if he touched the ground.
Another picture showed England holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked prisoner on the floor.
U.S. officials have said the abuses were confined to a small group of guards at Abu Ghraib, although the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International say abuse was more systematic and widespread.
But Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, suggested Wednesday that mistreatment was more extensive than previously acknowledged, saying the military had investigated 75 cases of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan since late 2002.
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