An Army dog handler was sentenced Wednesday to six months behind bars for using his snarling canine to torment prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The military jury handed down the sentence a day after convicting Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 24. He could have gotten 8½ years in prison.
Smith was sentenced on five charges, including maltreatment of prisoners, conspiring with another dog handler in a contest to try to frighten detainees into soiling themselves and directing his dog to lick peanut butter off other soldiers’ bodies.
Prosecutors said he let his unmuzzled black Belgian shepherd bark and lunge at cowering Iraqis for his own amusement. The defense argued that Smith believed he was following orders to soften up prisoners for interrogation.
Smith appeared unrepentant when he addressed the jury Tuesday, shortly after he was convicted.
“Soldiers are not supposed to be soft and cuddly,” he said.
Prison danger as defense
The defense had maintained that Smith was a good soldier who believed he was doing what the government wanted canine handlers to do at Abu Ghraib: provide security and frighten interrogation subjects. Defense attorney Capt. Mary G. McCarthy said all that Smith’s dog did to prisoners was bark at them.
The defense further argued that Abu Ghraib was a dangerous, chaotic place where policies were so murky that even the colonel who supervised interrogations testified he was confused.
The jury deliberated for about 18 hours over three days.
Smith was found guilty of maltreatment involving three prisoners, conspiring with another dog handler in a contest to make prisoners soil themselves, dereliction of duty, assault and an indecent act. The assault charge was dismissed.
Soldier's admission: ‘It was foolish’
During the sentencing hearing, Smith said he wished he had to learned how to “CYA” — shorthand for “cover your backside.” Soldiers who don’t, he said, “end up in a heap of trouble.”
He did express remorse for the actions that led to the indecency conviction.
“It was foolish, stupid and juvenile. There is nothing I could do to take it back. If I could, I would,” Smith said.
The other dog handler, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, of Fullerton, Calif., is set for trial May 22.
Nine other soldiers have been convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, in many cases by putting them in sexually humiliating poses and photographing them.
Former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the longest sentence — 10 years in prison. Lynndie England, a 23-year-old reservist photographed giving a thumbs-up in front of naked prisoners, is serving three years behind bars.
‘Look at the fear in his eyes’
During the prosecution’s closing argument at Smith’s trial, the jury was shown enlarged photographs from 2003 and 2004 of Smith’s dog menacing cowering prisoners in cellblock hallways.
“Look at the fear in his eyes,” prosecutor Maj. Christopher Graveline said of one prisoner. “This is not to gain compliance.”
Sgt. John H. Ketzer, an interrogator at the prison, testified that one night, he followed the sounds of screaming to a cell where Smith’s dog was straining against its leash and barking at two cowering, teenage boys.
Ketzer said Smith laughingly told him afterward: “My buddy and I are having a contest to see if we can get them to (defecate on) themselves because we’ve already had some (urinate on) themselves.”
Under cross-examination, Ketzer said he thought Smith was only joking about the contest.
Prosecutors told the jury that Smith had violated two tenets of his training: treat prisoners humanely and use the minimum amount of force needed to ensure compliance.