Wednesday, May 19, 2004
ABU GHRAIB, Iraq —On the eve of the first court-martial in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, relatives of those still held at Abu Ghraib prison (search) said Tuesday the only suitable punishment would be death — illustrating the potential gap in expectations in the case.
"If they actually committed such offenses, they should be executed," said Odai Ibrahim, 55, as he waited in a line with hundreds of other Iraqis to visit relatives at the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad — notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam Hussein's (search) regime.
But the first defendant, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits (search), faces only a year in prison, a fine, reduction in pay and a bad conduct discharge. He has cooperated with authorities and is expected to testify against the others, who face more serious charges.
Three others — Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick (search), Sgt. Javal Davis (search), and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. (search) — will be arraigned Wednesday before Sivits goes on trial. The arraignments and the Sivits trial will be open to media coverage. Nine Arab newspaper or broadcast journalists are among 34 news organizations to be allowed seats in the courtroom.
The U.S. military hopes the presence in the courtroom of such prominent Arab media as the Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television networks will demonstrate American resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.
However, the U.S. military has barred the broadcast of Wednesday's hearings on radio or television, and is prohibiting all recording devices and mobile phones from the courtroom.
Pictures of prisoners subjected to sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of American military police guards have generated a wave of international outrage and prompted some to question the Bush administration's commitment to bringing democracy to Iraq.
"We will learn all the facts and determine the full extent of these abuses," President Bush promised this month in a radio address. "Those involved will be identified. They will answer for their actions."
However, comments heard Tuesday outside Abu Ghraib suggest the outcome may not satisfy Iraqi demands for justice, especially since the first defendant faces the least severe charges.
The charges against Sivits include taking a photograph of nude detainees, maltreating a detainee by escorting him to be "positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers" and negligence for failing to protect detainees from "abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment," according to the military charge sheet. He is expected to plead guilty Wednesday.
"Some of the people inside have spent two years in prison and they are innocent," Ibrahim said. "The maximum sentence for the Americans is one year. Is that justice?"
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which inspects prisons in Iraq and elsewhere, has said up to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake. A 24-page Red Cross report also cited abuses, some "tantamount to torture," including brutality, forcing people to wear hoods, humiliation and threats of imminent execution.
Sharhabil Abdul-Rahman, 41, said he and his brother were arrested by U.S. soldiers during a raid of their Baghdad home in March. He was released, but his brother remains in custody.
"This court will not bring justice," he said outside the prison. "It's nonsense. They should be tried by the Iraqis. According to Islamic law they should be executed."
Thunijah Jassim Mahmood, 70, waited for hours Tuesday in the desert heat to see her son Abdul-Razzaq Mahmood, 34, who has been held for more than a month.
"They stacked them naked, one upon the other," she said. "I don't believe there will be real justice by the Americans. I want them to leave Iraq and go home."
One of the most shocking photos — described in Frederick's indictment — was of a naked, hooded prisoner on a box. He had wires fastened to his hands and genitals and had been told he would be electrocuted if he touched the ground.
Another showed Pfc. Lynndie England (search) with a leash in her hand, a naked prisoner on the floor at the other end.