FORT MEADE, Maryland – A military jury resumed deliberations Wednesday in the court-martial of an Army dog handler portrayed by prosecutors as part of a sadistic conspiracy and by defense lawyers as a victim of the chaos and confusion at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, accused of using his military dog to terrorize detainees for his own amusement, was a good soldier who tried to meet the urgent but muddled demands of inept senior officers, said his civilian attorney, Harvey J. Volzer.
"This man did absolutely nothing wrong," Volzer said in his closing argument Tuesday.
Maj. Christopher Graveline, the lead prosecutor, discounted the defense theory that Cardona and other military police soldiers felt obliged to take orders from military intelligence workers outside their chain of command.
"This is not about confusion and it's not about military intelligence. They were doing their own thing for their own entertainment," Graveline said.
Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, Calif., is accused of making his dog bite one prisoner and harass another to amuse himself and other soldiers already convicted of abuses at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and early 2004. The government also alleges he competed with another dog handler to frighten detainees into soiling themselves.
The military policeman, who was based at Fort Bragg, N.C., is charged with aggravated assault, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees and lying to investigators. He faces up to 16 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
During Cardona's trial, a military police reservist who ran the prison in summer 2003 testified that a visiting general had urged guards and interrogators to use dogs "as much as possible" with detainees.
The statement by Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum differed from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller's testimony earlier in the court-martial that he encouraged the use of dogs only for custody and control of detainees.
Ten low-ranking soldiers, including fellow dog-handler Sgt. Michael Smith, have been convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal, in which detainees were abused and photographed in painful or sexually humiliating positions. Smith was sentenced to 179 days in prison.