FORT HOOD, Texas – Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr., the reputed ringleader of a band of rogue guards at Abu Ghraib (search), may tell his story about what went on inside the notorious Baghdad prison after all.
Graner was convicted Friday of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that sparked international outrage when photographs were released that showed reservists gleefully humiliating prisoners. He did not testify during the 4 1/2-day trial, but Graner and his lawyers indicated late Friday that he would take the stand when his sentencing hearing resumes Saturday.
The first soldier to be court-martialed in the scandal, Graner 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.
On his way out of the courthouse hours later, Graner flashed a thumbs-up to a large group of reporters waiting for him.
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 4 1/2-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 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 before retiring for the night.
"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.
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 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.
A month later, President Bush urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) to make sure that any guilty U.S. soldiers are punished for "shameful and appalling acts."
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.
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.