updated 9/11/2004 6:28:53 AM ET 2004-09-11T10:28:53

A U.S. Army specialist pleaded guilty Saturday to abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, the first Military Intelligence soldier to stand trial in the scandal that has so far focused prison guard reservists.

Spc. Armin J. Cruz, of Plano, Texas, was assigned to the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion at the grim facility on the western edge of Baghdad. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to maltreatment of prisoners.

The military judge, Col. James Pohl, sentenced Cruz to eight months confinement, reduction in rank and bad conduct discharge.

The prosecution alleged Cruz forced naked prisoners to crawl along the floor and later handcuffed the men together. Cruz would have received a year in prison. The 24-year-old soldier broke down in tears as he told the judge that the abuse occurred a month after a mortar attack killed his sergeant and another American soldier.

Defense attorney Stephen P. Karns argued that Cruz was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Chief prosecutor Maj. Michael R. Holley said Cruz was not forced to take part in the abuse and that his actions contributed "to the tarnishing of the reputation and the image of U.S. forces."

Cruz became the second soldier convicted so far in the prison scandal, which broke last spring when CBS' "60 Minutes II" broadcast photos of Iraqi prisoners enduring sexual and other humiliation at the hands of grinning American guards.

In May, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits pleaded guilty to four counts of abuse at his court-martial and was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge.

Six other enlisted soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Maryland, face charges in the scandal.

Following orders?
However, lawyers for the accused MPs have long contended that their clients were acting under instructions of intelligence agents and civilian contractors, who pushed them to "soften up" prisoners suspected of having information about attacks against Americans.

A probe conducted by Maj. Gen. George Fay focused on the role of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at Abu Ghraib, which oversaw interrogations at the grim facility northwest of Baghdad.

The report identified 27 people attached to the intelligence brigade -- both soldiers and contractors -- who are accused of complicity in the abuses, which were widely depicted in photographs that tarnished America's image worldwide.

The Fay report assessed the performance of commanders and senior staff officers higher up the chain of command and attributed the abuse to personal misconduct and, in some cases, confusion and inadequate supervision -- rather than orders from above or Pentagon policy.

Their findings followed an independent panel released a report blaming senior leaders, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, for lax oversight of military-run prisons in Iraq.

The panel, led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, found no policy of abuse and concluded that the problems were directly the fault of the soldiers who committed violence against the prisoners, and their immediate supervisors.

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