FORT HOOD, Texas – A jury of 10 soldiers was selected Friday to decide whether the accused ringleader of the Abu Ghraib (search) prisoner abuse scandal was illegally beating inmates or following orders to soften up the detainees for interrogation.
Opening statements begin Monday in the court-martial of Spc. Charles Graner Jr. (search), of Uniontown, Pa., the first soldier to be tried in the scandal.
Graner, pictured in some of the notorious photographs of Iraqi inmates being sexually humiliated at the Baghdad prison, sat calmly at the defense table Friday and may testify on his own behalf. He was upbeat when speaking to reporters after the jury was picked.
"The sun is shining, the sky is blue and this is America," Graner said. "Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it's going to be on the positive side."
The jury is made up of four male officers and six enlisted men, all stationed at Fort Hood (search) and all of whom had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"This case involves terrorists and insurgents and the war on terrorism," defense attorney Guy Womack (search) said later. "We could not pick a truer jury of peers than to have a combat veteran tried by combat veterans."
Womack has said he plans to argue Graner was ordered by higher-ranking soldiers and intelligence agents to soften up the detainees for interrogators, and had no choice but to obey. Graner's trial will be an important first test of that argument.
At least seven jurors must vote guilty for Graner to be convicted on charges that include conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts. He faces up to 171/2 years in a military prison if convicted on all counts.
Womack said his client and other low-level soldiers were scapegoats and the acts of higher-ranking officers who directed the abuse were being ignored.
"If I was prosecuting this case, (Graner and others) would be witnesses and we'd be going after the officers and senior enlisted who gave these orders," he said. "We have to hold the order-giver to a higher standard than the person who was following the order."
Prosecutors are not legally allowed to comment on the case.
Graner, 36, appears in one photo giving a thumbs-up behind a pile of naked Iraqis. In another he is cocking his fist as if to punch a detainee.
On Thursday night, Graner gave KTRK-TV of Houston a photo of himself smiling with three men in orange jumpsuits, one of whom is also smiling with his thumb up. Graner said the men were Abu Ghraib prisoners, and that the smiling man was the same one who was photographed standing on a box with a hood over his head and wires attached to his body.
Womack told The Associated Press that the photo was taken with Graner's camera after the alleged abuse incidents. He said it was released after he and his client talked about how other photos from Abu Ghraib had been taken out of context.
A list of potential witnesses was released during jury selection.
Among them are the four other soldiers who have reached plea deals after being charged with Abu Ghraib abuses: Pvt. Ivan Frederick, Spc. Megan Ambuhl, Spc. Jeremy Sivits and Spc. Armin Cruz. They received sentences ranging from demotion to eight years in prison.
Also on the list was Sgt. Joseph Darby, the soldier who was the first to report his colleagues were abusing Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib.
In addition, three Iraqi detainees were expected to testify in videotaped depositions.
Three more soldiers from the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company unit are also awaiting trial at Fort Hood. Among them is Lynndie England, who in October gave birth to a child who Army prosecutors say was the result of a relationship with Graner.
Charges against England have not yet been formally filed, and her trial date has not been set.