IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Two defendants accusedof violence as civilians

An inmate of a Pennsylvania prison accused Charles A. Graner Jr. in a lawsuit of slipping a razor blade into his mashed potatoes and clubbing him with a baton. The case was later dismissed.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

An inmate of a Pennsylvania prison accused Charles A. Graner Jr. in a lawsuit of slipping a razor blade into his mashed potatoes and clubbing him with a baton. The case was later dismissed.

During a divorce proceeding, Graner's wife said he stalked and threatened to kill her. Judges issued three "protection from abuse" orders against him, though no criminal charges were filed.

Graner, described in an Army investigative report as a ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, is scheduled to be arraigned today on charges of abusing and mistreating detainees, along with Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick and Sgt. Javal S. Davis, the two highest-ranking soldiers charged in the case who have also been accused of playing key roles.

Their arraignments are set to coincide with the court-martial today of Spec. Jeremy C. Sivits, the first member of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., to stand trial in the case.

In sworn statements to investigators, Sivits, 24, has implicated others in the unit, describing in detail how guards beat and forced detainees into sexually humiliating positions. He said that Davis, 26, stomped on detainees' fingers or toes. He said Frederick, 37, who like Graner worked in a prison in his civilian life, once punched a captive in the chest "for no reason." Graner, 35, punched one in the head so hard it knocked him unconscious, Sivits said.

Defense attorneys have dismissed Sivits's statements as fabrications and said he is hoping to get a lenient sentence by testifying against his fellow soldiers. As their cases move closer to trial, the lawyers have made it clear their defense will revolve around the contention that the military police officers were following orders from intelligence officials to set the conditions for interrogations.

In building Graner's defense, his attorney, Guy L. Womack, has said he intends to use one of the pictures showing naked detainees piled on top of one another on the floor to show that MPs were directed by others. In the photo, Graner is standing over the detainees, watching, Womack said.

The photo, he said, shows a civilian interrogator and several Army intelligence officers "directing the setup of an interrogation. . . . So we have visual proof of what we have been saying."

The military has maintained, however, that the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison was limited to a small band of unruly soldiers who acted on their own. One of the Army's criminal investigators reached the same conclusion. During an Article 32 hearing for one of the charged soldiers, the investigating agent, Tyler Pieron, said: "There was absolutely no evidence that the MI [military intelligence] or MP [military police] chain of command authorized any of this kind of treatment. These individuals acted on their own."

'Retaliation after the riot'
He said some of the abused prisoners had rioted, and they were singled out. "It is clear to me that the abuse was retaliation after the riot," Pieron said.

Graner, the son of an airline mechanic, grew up in a two-story house at the top of a hill in Whitehall, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. He went to college after graduating from Baldwin High School, but he left after two years, joined a Marine Reserve unit and became a construction worker, according to court records.

Tom Zavada, a neighbor at Graner's current home in Uniontown, Pa., said Graner told him that a sense of patriotism drove him to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "Some people get into the Reserves because there is some good money," Zavada said. "Others got into it because they figure it's their duty. He's the latter."

Both Graner and Davis, of Nottingham, Md., have fought accusations of violence in their civilian lives.

In 1999, Davis's wife told police that he beat and strangled her while she was pregnant. Davis pushed her to the floor, she said in a statement. "I got up and reached for the phone to call 911, but he fought me to get away from the phone," wrote Zeenethia Davis. Javal Davis was charged with two counts of assault but was found not guilty in District Court in Baltimore County after his wife declined to testify.

Paul Bergrin, Javal Davis's attorney, said the charges grew out of a heated dispute between Davis and his wife. No one was injured, he said. "She admitted that she was the aggressor. She struck him, and he grabbed her. Then the police came to the house and essentially what she said was 'I don't want to prosecute.' And that was the end of it."

Womack, Graner's attorney, said neither the ex-wife's allegations of abuse nor lawsuits brought by prisoners "were substantiated. And it is so common for a jailer or a prison guard to be accused of maltreatment of a prisoner. It's an everyday event." About the claims by his former wife, Womack said: "He was awarded equal custody [of two children] with his wife. The state of Pennsylvania probably would not have done that if they thought he was beating his wife."

Graner was one of several guards named in a federal lawsuit alleging that they routinely mistreated inmates at a Pennsylvania prison. Horatio Nimley, an inmate from 1997 to 2000 on a burglary conviction, charged that Graner beat his arm with a baton and tricked him into eating a razor blade stashed in his lunch meal.

'They're trying to kill me'
In court records, Nimley said that he bit into the razor blade and severely cut his mouth. As he screamed for medical attention, he said, Graner ignored him and continued to serve the rest of the cell block their meals. Nimley then went to the nurse's office, where Graner and another guard slammed his head into the floor, causing him to lose hearing in one ear, according to the lawsuit.

"Stop, stop," Nimley yelled, according to his lawsuit. "They're trying to kill me."

Graner had been cleared of wrongdoing by his superiors at the jail, according to the lawsuit. He alleged that Nimley had been "disruptive and aggressive" during the incident, and that Nimley was punished with 150 days in a restricted housing unit.

Nimley, who was released from prison in 2000, represented himself in the court case. When he failed to respond to several court motions, the suit was dismissed.

At the prison, Graner was suspended three times and given three written reprimands for being late and having attendance problems. In 2000, he was fired for refusing to work overtime and for leaving the prison without notifying his supervisor. He was reinstated two years later when an arbitrator cut the punishment to a three-day suspension.

His home life in those years was troubled.

Graner's former wife was granted three "protection from abuse" orders against him, from 1997 to 2001, as the couple went through a contentious divorce and custody battle. In court documents, Staci Graner, 33, alleged that Charles Graner sneaked into her house at night, threw her around the bedroom in a rage and set up a video camera in her house to record her movements.

'Threw me into a wall'
In June 1997, the first of the orders was issued after she wrote in court papers that he had threatened to kill her and had told her mother that he did not need his guns "for what he was going to do to" her.

Less than a year later she was back in court, accusing him of sneaking into the house at night and scaring her. Once, he hid in the laundry room at night, Staci Graner wrote, and when she walked by he jumped out and startled her. She also alleged that he "picked me up and threw me into a wall. I had huge bruises on my arms. [He] picked me up and threw me a couple of times."

In 2001, Charles Graner told his ex-wife that, even though they had been divorced for more than a year, he still considered her his wife, according to another request for a "protection from abuse" order. She also said that her former husband had dragged her out of their then-10-year-old daughter's bedroom by her hair and tried to throw her down a staircase. The police eventually came that night. No charges were filed. Through her family, Staci Graner declined to comment.

Charles Graner denied abusing his wife, said Phyllis A. Jin, his attorney at the time. His main concern was that he see his children regularly, she said. A judge granted him generous visitation rights, Jin said; he had the kids for 31/2 days a week.

"His children were his life," Jin said. "That was his biggest concern: that she wouldn't allow him to be a part of their lives."

Researchers Bobbye Pratt and Julie Tate contributed to this report.