FORT HOOD, Texas – Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr. (search), the reputed ringleader of a band of rogue guards at the Abu Ghraib prison, was convicted Friday of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that sparked international outrage when photographs were released that showed reservists gleefully humiliating prisoners.
Graner, the first soldier to be court-martialed in the scandal, was convicted of all five charges and faces up to 15 years behind bars. Four other soldiers have pleaded guilty in the scandal.
Graner stood at attention and looked straight ahead without expression as each verdict was read. His parents, Charles and Irma Graner, held hands tightly as they listened.
Click here to read the charges against Graner.
On his way out of the courthouse hours later, Graner flashed a thumbs-up to a large group of reporters waiting for him. He didn't testify during the trial, but his attorneys said he would Saturday in the sentencing phase.
Asked what he would say on the stand, Graner said, "The first thing I'm going to say is, 'I swear to God."'
The verdict came after less than five hours of deliberations and a 41/2-day trial in which prosecutors depicted Graner as a sadistic soldier who took great pleasure in seeing detainees suffer.
"It was for sport, for laughs," prosecutor Capt. Chris Graveline (search) told jurors in his closing argument Friday. "What we have here is plain abuse. There is no justification."
The jury began the sentencing phase Friday evening. The prosecution wrapped up its sentencing testimony quickly, but Graner's attorney called seven witnesses before testimony ended for the night.
Iraqi detainee Hussein Mutar (search), in videotaped testimony shown during the sentencing phase, said he had supported the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein until he was abused.
"The Americans came to free the Iraqi people from Saddam," Mutar said. "I didn't expect this to happen. This instance changed the entire picture of the American people (for me)."
Graner was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs. He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out, and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick.
Irma Graner, testifying in the sentencing phase, described her son as a kind and gentle man who faithfully served his country.
"He is not the monster he's made out to be," she said quietly. "In my eyes he'll always be a hero."
The jury of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men rejected the defense argument that Graner and other guards were merely following orders from intelligence agents at Abu Ghraib when they roughed up the detainees.
Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from Uniontown, Pa., faced 10 counts under five separate charges: Assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts and dereliction of duty. He was found guilty on all counts, except that one assault count was downgraded to battery.
Each count required that at least seven of the 10 jurors to agree for conviction.
Graveline recounted the abuse allegations, buttressing many with photos and video taken inside the prison in October and November 2003.
One witness, Syrian prisoner Amin al-Sheikh, had characterized Graner as the "primary torturer," who merrily whistled, sang and laughed while brutalizing him and forced him to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of his Muslim faith.
Mutar, the Iraqi detainee, told the court during the guilt phase that he was among a group of prisoners stripped by Graner and other Abu Ghraib (search) guards, stacked up naked in a human pyramid while female soldiers watched, and later told to masturbate.
"I couldn't imagine it in the beginning," Mutar testified. "I could kill myself because no one over there was stopping it from happening."
Graner's attorney, Guy Womack, contended that his client and other Abu Ghraib guards were under extreme pressure from intelligence agents to use physical violence to prepare detainees for questioning.
"It was a persistent, consistent set of orders," Womack said in his closing argument. "To soften up the detainees, to do things so we can interrogate them successfully in support of our mission. ... We had men and women being killed."
Womack described the notorious photos taken inside the prison as "gallows humor" arising from unrelenting stress felt by the Abu Ghraib guards.
He reminded jurors that Saddam was not yet in U.S. custody when the alleged abuse happened.
"There was somebody very important on everybody's mind," Womack said. "Wouldn't it be logical to have your interrogators use pressure to get information to try to find him?"
He also tried to plant the seed that Graner and the other low-level guards were being used in a cover-up to protect Army officers once those photos went public.
The shocking photos of reservists abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners were first broadcast on CBS's "60 Minutes II" in April. The photos showed naked detainees posed in sexual positions, hooked to electrodes and tethered to a leash.
A month later, President Bush urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make sure that any guilty U.S. soldiers are punished for "shameful and appalling acts." Many critics called for Rumsfeld to step down in the aftermath of the scandal.
A senior guard at the Pennsylvania prison where Graner once worked praised his restraint in dealing with prisoners and his ability to follow orders.
"He was excellent, he was very disciplined," said Michael Zavada, the defense's first witness during the sentencing phase. "He did everything by policy."
Graner did not testify during the trial, which included testimony from three guards who had made plea deals with prosecutors.
Graner's demeanor at the beginning of the trial was upbeat, telling reporters at one point, "Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it's going to be on the positive side, and I'm going to have a smile on my face." As the trial wore on, his expressions grew more stoic.
Two other guards from the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit from Cresaptown, Md., are awaiting trial, along with Pfc. Lynndie England, a clerk at Abu Ghraib who last fall gave birth to a baby believed to be fathered by Graner.