By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD The sentencing of Spc. Charles Graner, a military police reservist, to 10 years in prison for the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad has drawn mixed reactions and prompted a new way of treating prisoners in Iraq.
Graner became the fourth soldier to face judicial punishment in the prison scandal. He was convicted of five charges of assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detain-ees, committing indecent acts and dereliction of duty. An assault count was downgraded to battery, which reduced his maximum prison time from 17 years to 15 years in prison.
Within the military, universal condemnation of the military police guards behavior has been matched by claims of a cover-up by the Armys brass. Graner should have gotten maybe a year, said Chris Diamond, whose son received a conviction in a military court at Fort Bragg, N.C.
In a lengthy letter to the Herald, Diamond noted that the captains, lieutenants, majors on up, they will never pay. They all have their scapegoats.
Postings on the Heralds chat room also questioned the lack of punishment for higher-ranking officers.
Graner was railroaded, big time. The punishment was excessive, and the court-martial was unfair, in my opinion, noted one entry. Why were his superior officers allowed to refuse to testify? Because of their rank, they do not have to answer for their actions, or the actions of their soldiers?
Graners defense that military intelligence personnel were encouraging the tactics, however, disgusted another Web site guest.
I find it the height of hypocrisy that U.S. soldiers like Graner are now using the old and disgraced adage of I was just following orders. This was a Nazi argument and I would have thought anyone of medium to low intelligence could have recognized it had no validity in a civilized world. He disgraced the U.S., he disgraced me and he disgraces our president, the writer argued.
Charges were filed against Graner, a military intelligence soldier and five other military police reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company after the scandal erupted in April. Photographs showing the reservists gloating over naked detainees being tortured and placed in sexually suggestive poses and a human pyramid sparked international outrage when they were leaked to CBS and aired on the networks news show 60 Minutes.
Graner, the reputed ringleader of the abuse, was the first to go to trial. In addition to his role in forming the human pyramid, Graner also was accused of punching a detainee in the head and knocking him out and striking an injured prisoner with a metal rod.
Three soldiers pleaded out their cases. Another three soldiers are awaiting trial at Fort Hood for their actions while on duty in the military intelligence wing of the prison known as Tier 1 Alpha. All are junior enlisted ranks.
The jury of 10 soldiers, which included nine officers and senior noncommissioned officers from the 4th Infantry Division, deliberated for a little more than two hours after hearing Graners unsworn account of the prisons conditions and the role of military intelligence personnel.
The 36-year-old corrections officer from Uniontown, Pa., did not react as the sentencing was read and offered no remorse for his actions.
Theres a war on. Bad things happen, he told reporters as he left III Corps courtroom at Fort Hood with a smile on his face.
In Iraq, the countrys interim government did not offer an official reaction.
Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli,whose 1st Cavalry Division has Abu Ghraib in its patrol area, said there did not appear to be any fallout from the trial.
I have not heard of any at all, said Chiarelli in a video teleconference Thursday from Baghdad. Iraqis right now are almost singularly focused on their elections.
However, Iraqis questioned in Baghdad by The Associated Press were unhappy about the outcome.
It showed on his face that he did not regret the shameful acts that he and his colleagues committed, said Abdul-Razak Abdul-Fattah, a 65-year-old retired army officer who was incensed by Graners smile. Perhaps Americans think that those things, I mean showing people naked, is normal and not shameful.
Hussein Mohammed, a 22-year-old student, told the AP that the humiliation of the prisoners still lingers in his country, nine months after the scandal broke.
Even though the Iraqi community knows that those abused people were forced to do so, the community will continue to look down on them, said Mohammed, a 24-year-old Baghdad shopkeeper. That person brought ignominy to those Iraqis. As Arabs, we prefer to die with honor rather than live with such disgrace.
In his videotaped deposition for the sentencing phase of Graners court-martial, Hussein Mutar said his experience while imprisoned at Abu Ghraib would make it hard for him to return home.
When I get released, how will I go and see people? he asked. How would I go out right now and face the public with myself?
The military is working hard to repair its tattered image. A two-star general, Maj. Gen. William H. Brandenburg, is now running the Armys prisons in Iraq, replacing disgraced Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski.
At Camp Bucca on the Kuwaiti border, where most of the more than 7,000 Iraqi and foreign prisoners have been moved, military commanders told the Los Angeles Times that they are hoping the new model prison will bury the ghosts of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
We want (the prisoners) to say, The Americans treated me all right and theyre good-hearted people, Col. Jim Brown, commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade, told the Times.
The new camp is divided into 10 compounds capable of housing up to 800 prisoners who can elect mayors to represent their needs. Prison meals are now hot and freshly cooked instead of packaged. Soccer and education is part of prison life, and so are visits by families and watchdog representatives from the neighboring Iraqi Human Rights Ministry.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com