FORT HOOD, Texas – Guards were joking when they forced a hooded Iraqi to stand on a box with wires in his hands, telling him he'd be electrocuted if he fell, a defense lawyer said Thursday at the opening of the second military trial stemming from the Abu Ghraib (search) prison scandal.
Spc. Sabrina Harman (search) faces five counts of prisoner maltreatment stemming from the photo of the inmate, known as "Gilligan," on a box with his hands outstretched.
Prosecutors contend the Army reservist forced the inmate onto the box in the infamous photo seen around the world when the 2003 abuse scandal broke — and that the man feared he would die.
"He was trembling, shaking, afraid he was going to be electrocuted," prosecutor Capt. Chuck Neill said during opening statements.
Defense attorney Frank Spinner (search) told the jury of four Army officers and four senior enlisted soldiers he would present evidence "it was a joking type of thing, and that Gilligan was in on the joke and that this was simply a matter of sleep deprivation."
The prison guards stood him on the box as a practice of keeping him awake to soften him up for interrogation, Spinner said.
Sgt. 1st Class Warren Worth, an Army criminal investigator who questioned Harman in January 2004, testified Thursday that Harman took responsibility for the Gilligan incident.
"She said she was just joking with him and that it was her idea to do it," Worth said.
The judge had rejected defense attempts to keep some of the notorious Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos from the jury. The photos prompted condemnation around the globe of U.S. military treatment of detainees at the prison.
Harman, a one-time pizza shop manager from Lorton, Va., is the second servicemember to go on trial on charges that she took part in mistreating detainees. The first, Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, was expected to be a witness.
Harman could face up to 6 1/2 years if convicted of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, five counts of maltreating detainees and dereliction of duty.
In one photo, Harman poses with Graner behind a group of naked detainees stacked in a pyramid. In another, the 27-year-old reservist is shown with a prisoner on whose leg she is accused of writing "rapeist."
Another image shows her giving a thumbs-up while posing with the corpse of an Iraqi detainee who had allegedly been beaten by Navy SEALs at Abu Ghraib and later died while being interrogated by CIA agents. None of the charges against her, however, are based on that photo.
"These are soldiers having a good time at the expense of the detainees put in their care," Neill said. He said all the actions were "all clearly, certainly illegal."
Spinner argued that writing on prisoners is not illegal, and that the man was a suspected rapist. He also questioned whether the act was maltreatment because the man couldn't read what was written on him anyway.
During a pretrial hearing Wednesday, the judge, Col. James Pohl, gave prosecutors the go-ahead to show jurors 29 of the photos.
Spinner said Harman had not been in the reserves very long and was thrown into Abu Ghraib without sufficient training or resources. He said she was taking photographs to document wrongdoing.
"It bothered her and she started taking pictures to document what was going on," Spinner said.
The judge refused to allow the defense to present a statement to investigators from the prisoner shown standing on the box. The prisoner said in the statement that other soldiers forced him to stand on the box.
Pohl said the statement was not permissible because of questions about its trustworthiness and the fact that Gilligan could not be located to be a sworn witness subject to cross-examination.
Capt. Cullen Sheppard, a prosecution spokesman, said the government tried without success to locate Gilligan after his release from U.S. custody.
Spinner said Gilligan's statement was not critical, but that "I'm still astonished that the government objects to introducing a statement of the alleged victim."
Four other Abu Ghraib guards have accepted plea agreements. Their sentences ranged from no time to serve to 8 1/2 years. Pfc. Lynndie England, the most recognizable Abu Ghraib defendant, also made a deal with prosecutors, but Pohl threw it out last week when sentencing testimony by Graner conflicted with England's guilty plea on the conspiracy charge.