The three, Specialist Charles Graner, who faces the heaviest maximum sentence of 28 years jail if found guilty, Sergeant Javal Davis and Specialist Sabrina Harman, would be tried at Ford Hood in Texas early next year instead of a US base in Baghdad, the military said.

  

No reason was given for the move in a brief statement released in Baghdad on Wednesday night.

 

Lawyers for the soldiers' defence have demanded that senior officials up the chain of command be summoned to appear as witnesses at the trials, including Colonel Thomas Pappas, the head of the 205th military intelligence brigade assigned to Abu Ghraib.

  

Implicated

 

Pappas has been implicated in at least two Pentagon probes for involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal, although he has not been formally indicted.

  

Davis' lawyer has also indicated he wants to speak to the men right at the top, namely Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his intelligence deputy, Stephen Cambone. 

 

Graner (at the back) faces 28
years in jail if convicted

During a hearing in Baghdad on 22 October, Davis's trial date was tentatively scheduled for 1 February.

  

So far seven guards have been charged in the scandal. In October, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, the most senior US soldier charged was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in physical and sexual abuse of detainees.

  

Specialist James Sivits pleaded guilty in May and was sentenced to a year in prison.

 

Guilty

 

Earlier, at Camp Pendleton in California, a jury of marine officers found a major guilty of maltreatment and dereliction of duty in connection with the death of an Iraqi prisoner and sentenced him to be dismissed from the service.

  

Major Clarke Paulus showed no reaction as the sentence was read on Wednesday, just as he had done hours earlier when the jury foreman read the verdict. Paulus was acquitted of the most serious charge of assault and battery.

 

Seven guards have been charged
in the Abu Ghraib scandal

Paulus, 36, commanded the marine detention facility at Camp Whitehorse in southern Iraq. He was accused of ordering a subordinate to drag detainee Nagim Sadoon Hatab by the neck out of a holding cell in June 2003 after the man suffered a bout of diarrhoea.

  

Hatab was stripped naked and left outside for seven hours before he was found dead.

 

Contention

  

Prosecutors contended Paulus failed to safeguard Hatab's health and welfare and failed to provide him with proper medical care.

  

The jury deliberated for about six hours before finding Paulus guilty.

 

Hatab, a 52-year-old member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, was arrested by marines who suspected him of a role in an ambush which led to the capture of Private Jessica Lynch, among others.