A US military court in Baghdad on Friday ordered the soldiers, including an alleged ringleader, to stand trial over the sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

Military judge Colonel James Pohl rejected a bid by the defence counsel for one of the soldiers, Sergeant Javal Davis, to force Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to testify at his trial.

Like others convicted over the Abu Ghraib affair, which created world outrage, Davis and Specialist Charles Graner argue they were following orders to soften prisoners up for interrogation.

Graner - named by one co-accused as a ringleader - faces up to 28 years in jail and other penalties on charges including cruelty, assault, committing indecent acts and adultery.

A military investigator has told another court Graner, 36, had been identified by fellow accused Private Lynndie England as the father of her baby born this month. The adultery charge stems from that relationship.

Bullish defence

Graner is due to stand trial on 7 January and Davis on 1 February. Both are army reservists.  

"The soldiers took her out of the cell and took her downstairs, where they showed her a naked Iraqi man and told her that if she did not do what they said, then they would take her clothes off and make her look like the Iraqi man"

US government documents

"We are going to win. He was acting under fully lawful orders at the time," Graner's counsel, Guy Womack, told reporters at Friday's hearing at a US base.

"The orders had been given to him by his superiors in the military police chain of command, military intelligence and civilian intelligence."

Witnesses in the court martial of the most senior soldier charged over the incidents, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, jailed for eight years on Wednesday, said the CIA sometimes directed abuse and orders were received from military command to toughen interrogations.

The evidence, from an officer and a chief warrant officer who served at the jail, is among the strongest so far in the Abu Ghraib trials pointing to more senior involvement.

Assault, maltreatment charges

Previously, the Pentagon had said the abuses were the work of a few "bad apples" acting on their own.

Davis, 26, and married with two children, will plead not guilty to charges including assault and maltreatment of detainees, his lawyer, Paul Bergrin, told reporters.    

Pohl refused his request to move the trial to the United States.

In addition to Frederick, two other soldiers have been jailed for eight months and one year over the incidents.

In all, seven army reservists working as military police and one intelligence soldier have been indicted over the abuses.

Abuse documents released

Meanwhile, the US government released thousands of pages of documents on prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, including details on three deaths at Abu Ghraib and alleged molestation of a female inmate by soldiers on Friday.

Lynndie England (L) was shown
holding Iraqi men by a dog leash

The government released the documents to the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union after a court ordered the government to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU said.

The documents include most of the annexes to an investigation report into the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison by Major General Antonio Taguba, army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) reports, internal FBI memoranda, as well as exchanges of letters between government officials and members of Congress.

The ACLU posted some documents on its website together with an index and brief description of the documents. It said it would post the other documents over the coming days.

New details

Portions of many of the documents were blacked out by government censors, but they appeared to contain some new details on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and at US detention facilities in Afghanistan.

Three reports from the army's CID recorded the deaths of three inmates at Abu Ghraib within days of each other in August 2003, just before the most notorious abuses began.

In each case, CID investigations concluded that the "manner of death was natural," including that of a prisoner who had been on a hunger strike for eight days, according to the ACLU's summary.

The hunger striker was identified in a CID report as Dham Spah who died 16 August 2003 at Abu Ghraib.

The other prisoners were Najm Abid Muhammad who died on 8 August 2003 at Abu Ghraib and Imad Kadhim Talib, who died at the prison on 20 August 2003, according to the documents.

Female detainee 'abused'

Other documents from a commander's "report of disciplinary or administrative" action details an incident on 13 October 2003 in which an unidentified female detainee alleged she had been abused by soldiers.

An independent review blamed a
lack of leadership for the abuse

The detainee, whose name was deleted, alleged that "inside the cell, one of the soldiers held her hands behind her back while another soldier forcibly kissed her," the summary quoted the report as saying.

"The soldiers took her out of the cell and took her downstairs, where they showed her a naked Iraqi man and told her that if she did not do what they said, then they would take her clothes off and make her look like the Iraqi man," it was quoted as saying.   

The detainee said the soldier "removed her shirt, leaving her in her bra".

The investigation "did not establish sufficient evidence to prove or disprove (whether the soldiers) committed the offenses," the summary quoted the report as saying.