msnbc.com news services
updated 1/4/2005 7:15:50 AM ET 2005-01-04T12:15:50

One of two American servicemen accused of drowning an Iraqi civilian is expected to appear before a military court here Tuesday, while the suspected ringleader of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison is scheduled to face court-martial proceedings later this week.

Defense attorneys for the two soldiers accused in the drowning death of an Iraqi civilian contend the victim may still be alive — or was killed by someone other than U.S. soldiers.

At a military hearing last year, investigators acknowledged they never saw a body, and instead relied on the word of relatives and a family videotape showing a corpse in a coffin.

Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins and 1st Lt. Jack Saville are accused of ordering soldiers to push two Iraqis into the Tigris River in January 2004 as punishment for violating curfew.

Prosecutors say Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, drowned and his cousin, Marwan Hassoun, climbed out the river.

Perkins, 33, and Saville, 24, face charges of involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy and aggravated assault, among others. They each could get up to 29 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Perkins was expected to appear before a military court Tuesday. Saville’s trial was postponed last month after a military judge approved a request to exhume the victim’s body for an autopsy. It has been rescheduled for March.

Saville and Perkins also face another assault charge for allegedly forcing an Iraqi man off a bridge in December 2003 near Balad.

Abu Ghraib court-martial on tap
Meanwhile, the suspected ringleader of abuse in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison is among two U.S. Army soldiers scheduled for court-martial this week over wartime actions.

Spc. Charles Graner appeared in several photographs showing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in sexually humiliating positions, including one in which Graner stood behind a human pyramid of naked detainees.

The photos from the prison outside Baghdad shocked the world and prompted President Bush to apologize.

At his court-martial Friday at Fort Hood, Graner faces 24 1/2 years in prison on charges that include conspiracy to mistreat detainees, dereliction of duties, maltreating detainees, assault and indecency.

Infamous photos
The military trial likely to be more closely watched is Graner's.

The Abu Ghraib photos surfaced in April last year, sparking international condemnation and damaging the U.S. image in Iraq.

Graner is one of seven reservists from the Army's 372 Military Police Company charged with abuses at the prison. Some members of the 372nd have already pleaded guilty.

One suspect, Pvt. Lynndie England, who was photographed holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash, gave birth to a child in October that military investigators say was fathered by Graner.

England was recently transferred to Fort Hood from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. A date has not yet been set in her court-martial.

Legal experts said there was a strong possibility Graner would enter into a plea bargain because the charges against him were supported by photographic evidence, and members of his unit who had reached plea bargains could be called on to testify against him.

Guy Womack, a civilian lawyer for Graner, has said comments by Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military leaders condemning the abuses would make it impossible for Graner to get a fair military trial because of their influence on the chain of command.

He also said at a pretrial hearing that Graner was following orders.

That aspect of the case could generate some extra heat for White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales, Bush's nominee to be U.S. attorney general, during his confirmation hearings in the Senate, said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The court-martial is expected to delve into what role Gonzales played in legal opinions that outlined rules for the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Civil liberties groups have said the opinions contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a charge denied by the administration.

In a January 2002 memo, Gonzales argued the need to obtain information from would-be terrorists rendered obsolete the Geneva Conventions' strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners. It called some convention provisions "quaint."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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