Jeremy Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, will face a military court less than a month after photos of prisoners being abused and humiliated were first broadcast on 28 April.
Both the speed of the trial’s scheduling and the venue in the Iraqi capital underscore the military’s realisation that it must demonstrate resolve in prosecuting those responsible for a scandal that threatens to undermine US occupation authority in Iraq and President George Bush’s re-election chances.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, announcing the trial date on Sunday, said the proceedings would be held in the Baghdad Convention Centre, which houses the occupation press office, and be open to media coverage.
Sivits is one of seven soldiers facing charges, but appears to be a lesser figure in the case.
Some of the others will likely go before a general court martial, which can give more severe punishments than the “special” court martial that will try Sivits.
But his trial could produce evidence for prosecuting others believed more culpable.
He is believed to have taken some of the photos that triggered the scandal. His father, Daniel Sivits, said last month his son “was told to take a picture, and he did what he was told”.
US lawyers say there are much
He said his son trained as a mechanic, but found himself performing military police work for which he was unqualified.
The soldier was charged with conspiracy to mistreat detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect prisoners and maltreatment of detainees. Seven officers have received career-ending reprimands.
If convicted, he could face one year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge. Penalties could include only one, all or any combination of those punishments.
Choosing between trial before a single military judge or a three-member panel of senior officers, he has the right to a civilian attorney and will have access to military counsel.
Exception or rule?
Officials hope the trial will convince Iraqis that the US does not tolerate torture and will act swiftly to punish those responsible.
The trials could determine whether abuse at Abu Ghraib was an aberration – as the US command insists – or stemmed from pressure from military intelligence units to make detainees more compliant under questioning.
“We were dealing here with a broad pattern,
Months before the scandal broke, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told top Washington officials it had problems with the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Antonella Notari, chief agency spokeswoman.
She said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger spoke about prison conditions during January meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
“He raised concerns regarding detention in Iraq, along with Guantanamo and other locations,” Notari told The Associated Press in Geneva.
Breaking prisoners in
One soldier facing charges, Sabrina Harman, said she and others with the 372nd Military Police Company took direction from army military intelligence officers, CIA operatives and civilian contractors who conducted interrogations.
American officials have insisted the abuses at Abu Ghraib were carried out by a handful of soldiers who failed to follow procedures and were not part of a systematic programme of brutality.
Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt (L) insists
“Please don’t paint with such a wide brush that it indicts the other 135,000 American soldiers and marines out there doing the right thing,” Kimmitt told reporters. He said investigators believe that only a “very small number of guards” were involved.
However, Iraqis freed from US custody since the war began in March 2003 have long told of abusive treatment including lying bound in the sun for hours; being attacked by dogs; being deprived of water; and left hooded for days. Until photos were published, their complaints won little attention except from human rights groups.
History of abuse
Last summer, Amnesty International said it learned Red Cross inspectors were finding serious abuses, and it charged that “torture and gross abuse of human rights” were occurring.
On Friday, the ICRC disclosed it had repeatedly demanded last year that US authorities correct problems at Abu Ghraib and other detention centres. The Americans took action on some issues but not others, it said.
Punishments could range from a
“We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system,” Pierre Kraehenbuel, the Red Cross operations director, said in Geneva.
US lawmakers have warned that the most repulsive photos have yet to be released and have insisted that the army investigation should have repercussions for those higher-up and not just the military police accused of abusing detainees.
“I think command responsibility has to be looked at just as seriously as the abusers,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Saturday.
“The culture that led to this outrageous conduct has to be addressed just as much as the conduct itself.”
Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, added: “I think we need to move beyond scapegoating here of privates and sergeants to get at the facts as to what truly did happen.”
In an interview by email from Baghdad, Harman, the military policewoman, told The Washington Post it was made clear that her mission was to break down the prisoners.
“They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed,” Harman said. “The job of the MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk.”
Harman, 26, is one of two smiling soldiers in a photo standing behind naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners stacked in a pyramid.