Soldier's Lawyer Says Iraq Abuse Widespread
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The lawyer for a soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib (search) prisoner abuse scandal said Friday the military might be incapable of handling the case because key players will not step forward for fear of incriminating themselves.
The comments by the lawyer of Spc. Sabrina Harman (search) came a day after her company commander testified that the head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib was present the night a plan was hatched to cover up the death of a detainee, apparently during questioning in November.
Harman, 26, of Alexandria, Va., faces possible court-martial (search) for her alleged involvement in abusing Iraqi detainees at the facility outside Baghdad. She appeared Friday for the second day of an Article 32 hearing (search), the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, called to determine whether facts in the case are sufficient to warrant a court-martial or other action.
Harman's attorney, Frank Spinner, told a pool reporter after the hearing that he "has no doubt that Iraqi detainees have been physically abused on a wide scale" that would be "beyond the military's ability ever to prosecute."
"The chain of command — they know it, too — and the problem is that people won't step up and admit it," Spinner said. "To do it now would only subject them to prosecution."
On Thursday, Harman's company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, testified that he was asked to go to a shower room at the prison one night in November and found a group of intelligence personnel standing around the corpse of a bloodied detainee.
Col. Thomas M. Pappas, Abu Ghraib's commander of military intelligence, was among those who were there, discussing what to do with the body, Reese said.
"I'm not going down for this alone," Pappas said, according to Reese. No medics were called.
Reese told the court that an Army colonel named "Jordan" sent a soldier to the mess hall for ice to preserve the body overnight. An autopsy of the detainee the following day determined he died of a blood clot resulting from a blow to the head, Reese said.
The body was hooked up to an intravenous drip the following day and transported out of the prison.
The testimony did not further identify the colonel. However, the Taguba report on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib notes that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was the head of the interrogation center at the prison.
Reese said in his testimony that military intelligence clearly controlled the cellblock where Harman's platoon worked the night shift with other members of her platoon.
An Army report obtained by The New Yorker magazine quotes Harman as saying her job was to keep detainees awake.
"My MPs, they were directed by the (military intelligence) people for what they wanted and how they wanted it," he said.
Harman was not called to testify in the hearings.
Harman is one of six soldiers still facing charges in the scandal that emerged in April. In one notorious photograph, Harman is shown standing with another soldier behind naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners stacked in a human pyramid.
Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison.
Spinner, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said soldiers and Marines in were put in impossible circumstances in Iraq.
"I am loathe to condemn our soldiers and Marines where these things may have happened," he said. "I think the prosecution of these cases is just gut reaction to public opinion and pressure."