updated 8/31/2004 8:52:45 PM ET 2004-09-01T00:52:45

A Navy medic who served at a Marine detention facility in Iraq testified Tuesday during a court-martial that he witnessed guards beating newly arrived inmates to intimidate them.

Petty Officer Carlton Blay said he saw defendant Sgt. Gary Pittman and other Marine reservists punch and slap between 10 and 15 detainees, but not an Iraqi inmate whose death is the focus of the trial. The detainees did not resist the blows, which were strong enough to cause some to groan or stagger, Blay said.

Force was used to “create a sense of dominance” and let the detainees know who was in charge at the makeshift Marine lockup, he said.

Blay’s testimony came in the second week of the trial of camp guard Pittman, a federal prison guard in New York in his civilian life. His court-martial is believed to be the first stemming from the death of a prisoner in Iraq.

Last week, another Marine guard testified that he saw Blay hit Nagem Hatab, the 52-year-old inmate who was found dead at the camp in June 2003. Blay, however, denied hitting the man or seeing other guards do so.

Medic testifies under immunity
Blay testified under immunity from military prosecutors. Prosecutor Maj. Leon Frances noted in court Tuesday that Blay also sought immunity from federal criminal prosecution. It was unclear whether the request was granted.

Tuesday marked the first day of testimony from defense witnesses in the trial of Pittman, who allegedly karate-kicked Hatab in the chest a day before he died.

Dr. Brian Peterson, a forensic pathologist, testified that Hatab’s heart condition likely led to his death but decomposition of the body and a lack of detail in the autopsy report made it impossible to say for sure.

Peterson said he had never seen a case where a kick to the chest caused six rib fractures as were found on the two sides of Hatab’s chest. Peterson said the fractures could have been caused by rough handling of the body after death.

Disagreement about cause of death
Francis noted on cross-examination that four doctors involved in the case reached different conclusions about what killed Hatab.

Army Col. Kathleen Ingwersen, who conducted the autopsy four days after Hatab’s death, listed the probable cause of death as suffocation due to a broken bone in the neck. She testified last week she believed Hatab’s ribs were broken before he died.

Pittman, 40, faces up to two years in prison if he is convicted on all counts of assault and dereliction of duty.

Last week, Pfc. William Roy testified that Pittman kicked Hatab in the chest out of anger over an attack on U.S. soldiers. Roy said he and Pittman believed Hatab had sold a rifle taken during the ambush of a U.S. Army convoy that killed 11 soldiers and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

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