CHARLES GRANER
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images file
Spc. Charles Graner
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/6/2004 1:52:32 PM ET 2004-12-06T18:52:32

A military judge Monday rejected a motion to dismiss charges against the suspected ringleader of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison after lawyers questioned whether he could get a fair trial.

Defense lawyers for Spc. Charles Graner argued that comments by President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld condemning the abuses would make it impossible for him to get a fair military trial.

“The court does not find any apparent unlawful command influence,” Judge James Pohl said. He said members of the top leadership in the Bush administration took pains in their comments to make sure that the presumption of innocence would be paramount in the Abu Ghraib trials.

Pohl did add, however, that he might reconsider his ruling if it becomes clear that prospective jurors may have been influenced to the degree that Graner may not get a fair trial.

Pohl also rejected a defense request that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former U.S. land forces commander in Iraq, be compelled to testify at Graner’s trial.

20-year sentence possible
The scandal erupted in April when photographs depicting U.S. soldiers taunting and humiliating naked prisoners became public, sparking worldwide condemnation.

Seven soldiers from the Army’s 372 Military Police Company and an intelligence officer have been charged.

Graner, 36, is expected to face an array of charges including conspiracy to mistreat prisoners and indecent acts. He faces a possible sentence of more than 20 years in prison.

Lawyers for two of the other defendants told a pretrial hearing here on Saturday that their clients were scapegoats for the failures of a system that reached to the highest levels of the military bureaucracy and the Bush administration.

Another defendant, Private Lynndie England, was photographed holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash. She gave birth to a baby last month which military investigators say was fathered by Graner.

She will stand trial next month at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. 

Accused of jumping on prisoners
Graner, of Uniontown, Pa., has been described in testimony as the ringleader in the alleged abuse. Charges against him include conspiracy to maltreat detainees, assault, committing indecent acts, obstruction of justice and adultery.

In one of the photos, Graner is seen giving a thumbs-up behind a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners. He also has been accused of jumping on prisoners, stomping their hands and feet and punching one man in the head hard enough to knock him out.

Graner's lawyers contend that Graner and other Abu Ghraib guards were ordered by higher-ranking soldiers to “soften up” prisoners for interrogators.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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