Word that a U.S. Army reservist was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for physically and sexually abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison drew scorn Sunday from Iraqis who thought he should have been tried here and punished with death.
Iraq’s interim government had no official reaction, but a handful of ordinary Iraqis interviewed in Baghdad said the trial and its outcome brought no justice. Rather, it bore a humiliation just as potent as the shame that came when pictures of the abuse first emerged in April.
Abdul-Razak Abdul-Fattah, a 65-year-old retired army officer, said he was shocked to see TV footage of Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr. leaving the court smiling and laughing even while his legs and hands were shackled.
“It showed on his face that he did not regret the shameful acts that he and his colleagues committed,” he said. “Perhaps Americans think that those things, I mean showing people naked, is normal and not shameful.”
Photos caused widespread outrage
Images of reservists abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib caused widespread outrage throughout the Arab world in particular, where communities can shun people who’ve suffered such deeply personal and public disgrace.
Graner, 36, thought to be the ringleader of the abuse, was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs. He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out, and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick.
Graner was sentenced Saturday to 10 years in military prison in the first court-martial of the scandal.
He could have received 15 years behind bars in the first court-martial stemming from the scandal. Asked if he felt remorse after the sentence was handed down, Graner said, “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.”
Graner will be dishonorably discharged when his sentence is completed. He also was demoted to private and ordered to forfeit all pay and benefits.
Hussein Mohammed, a 22-year-old student, said the humiliation of the prisoners still lingers, nine months after the scandal broke.
“Even though the Iraqi community knows that those abused people were forced to do so, the community will continue to look down on them,” Mohammed said.
A young shopkeeper in downtown Baghdad said Graner and his cohorts should be executed in Iraq in front of those they abused.
“That person brought ignominy to those Iraqis. As Arabs, we prefer to die with honor rather than live with such disgrace,” 24-year-old Mohammed Ahmed said.
A teacher in the northern city of Kirkuk said the abuse at the prison recalled the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was perhaps more shocking because it was not expected from a country that preaches respect for human rights.
“Iraq was a cemetery for human rights violations. When Saddam created the mass graves we thought that it was a savage thing,” Sardar Mohammed, 38, said. “But when we saw the Americans and what they have done at Abu Ghraib, I was astonished because America came here carrying slogans of freedom and democracy.”