BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. Army specialist broke down in tears Saturday as he admitted abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib (search) prison, receiving a lighter sentence in return for his testimony against others charged in the scandal.
Spc. Armin Cruz (search), 24, was the first Military Intelligence soldier convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal, and his trial came as the investigation into the abuses appeared to move beyond the Military Police who have so far been at the case's center.
"There is no way to justify it," Cruz, from Plano, Texas, said after pleading guilty to conspiracy to mistreat subordinates and mistreatment of prisoners at the grim, walled prison in western Baghdad (search) last October. "I accept full and complete responsibility."
Cruz, who had been assigned to the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge.
The judge, Col. James Pohl, adjourned the session briefly to allow Cruz to regain his composure after he broke down during questioning by the judge.
An investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib erupted into scandal in April when CBS' "60 Minutes II" first transmitted pictures of naked, terrified Iraqi prisoners undergoing abuse and humiliation at the hands of their grinning American guards.
Others charged so far have all been low-ranking enlisted soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit from Maryland.
Last May, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits became the first soldier convicted in the case, admitting to four charges of abuse and receiving a year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge. He is expected to testify against others.
However, lawyers for the accused MPs have long contended that their clients were acting under instructions of intelligence agents and civilian contractors, who pushed them to "soften up" prisoners suspected of having information about attacks against Americans.
In recent weeks, the investigation appears to be moving beyond the MP unit, casting doubt on the Pentagon's initial finding that the mistreatment was limited to a handful of misfits in a poorly led unit.
A probe released this month by Maj. Gen. George Fay focused on the role of military intelligence personnel in the abuse scandal and identified 27 people attached to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade -- both soldiers and contractors -- who are accused of complicity in the mistreatment.
Prosecutors accused Cruz of forcing naked prisoners to crawl along the floor and later handcuffed the men together.
The prosecution maintained that Cruz joined Spc. Charles Graner, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and other defendants from the 372nd MP Company in mistreating prisoners.
Cruz, who bit his lips incessantly during the proceedings, denied he either ordered or directed the prison guards to abuse prisoners.
Cruz said he was intelligence analyst who was never trained in interrogation techniques, but was nevertheless ordered to lend a hand because of personnel shortages.
His lawyer, Stephen P. Kranes, maintained Cruz was suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress syndrome after he was wounded in a mortar attack and his sergeant was killed.
Kranes said Cruz repeatedly asked for counseling but without success.
"His leadership needs to take some responsibility," Kranes said. "What would have happened if Spc. Cruz had received the mental help he asked for?"
However, the chief prosecutor, Maj. Michael R. Holley, told the court that Cruz made a conscious decision to take part in the abuses and must pay.
"He chose to degrade these men, to mock them like animals," Holley said. Holley said the actions of Cruz and others had tarnished the image of U.S. armed forces and put the lives of future captured American soldiers in jeopardy.