Hearings for soldiers in Iraqi abuse case

/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.S. Army court will hold pretrial hearings next week for three soldiers charged with abusing Iraqi inmates in Abu Ghraib prison, a coalition legal officer said Monday.

The hearings will be held June 21-23 in the heavily guarded Green Zone headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority, the officer told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The three are Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., 35; Staff Sgt. Ivan L. “Chip” Frederick II, 37; and Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26, the officer said.

A hearing for a fourth soldier, Army reservist Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, will be held separately on June 22 at Fort Bragg, N.C., where she is now stationed.

In all, seven soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., have been charged with abuse since the scandal broke in April with the publication of photos depicting prisoners suffering sexual humiliation and abuse at the hands of American military police serving as guards.

On Monday, about 400 prisoners were released from the grim detention center on the outskirts of Baghdad. The release was the fifth batch so far.

Three separate hearings
During three separate pretrial hearings in Baghdad next week, lawyers will be able to file motions, request a change of venue, call witnesses to testify or introduce evidence — “things that they need to do in order to go to trial at some later date,” the officer said.

A trial date could be announced at the hearings, or more hearings could be held later.

The Article 32 court hearings are called by the commanding officer of a soldier’s unit to determine whether to recommend a court-martial or other punishment under military law. It is similar to a civilian grand jury in the United States.

Graner, Frederick and Davis were arraigned May 19, the same day a special court-martial sentenced Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, the first defendant to go on trial in the Abu Ghraib case, to a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a bad conduct discharge.

Sivits, 24, was found guilty of two counts of mistreating detainees; dereliction of duty for failing to protect them from abuse and cruelty; and forcing a prisoner “to be positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers,” a military briefer said after his court-martial.

Sivits’ testimony will be used to prosecute other Americans accused of mistreating prisoners.

While Sivits faced what the Army calls a special court-martial, similar to a misdemeanor trial, the six others will probably face general courts-martial, which can yield more severe punishments.

During their May 19 arraignment, Davis, Frederick and Graner waived their rights to have charges read aloud and their pleas were deferred.

Previous testimony of alleged abuse
Testifying the same day, Sivits said he saw Davis stomping on the toes and hands of a group of prisoners on the floor with sandbags over their heads. He said Graner had punched one detainee in the head.

England is charged with assaulting Iraqi detainees, conspiring with Graner to mistreat the prisoners and committing an indecent act by forcing prisoners to masturbate. Graner is also charged with adultery for having sex with England in October.

England appeared in notorious photographs in which she pointed at Iraqi prisoners’ genitals and held a leash attached to a prisoner.