No frills as judge arraigns Iraq abuse defendants
There was no John Grisham-style courtroom drama. The three 15-minute hearings to arraign three US soldiers followed a strict format.
There was no John Grisham-style courtroom drama and next to no fanfare.
In three 15-minute hearings that followed a strict format, US military judge Colonel James Pohl on Wednesday arraigned three US soldiers on charges of abusing and maltreating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
Sergeant Javal Davis, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick and Specialist Charles Graner were ushered quickly into the courtroom for their separate hearings and remained largely passive throughout, saying only "yes, sir" or "no, sir".
All chose to defer a plea, with their US-military appointed lawyers motioning for more time to prepare the case and to request evidence from the prosecution.
In all three cases, the judge, wearing a black gown and looking over half-moon glasses at the end of his nose, granted the deferral and set the next pre-trial hearing for June 21.
Later on Wednesday, 24-year-old military policeman Specialist Jeremy Sivits faces the first court martial on charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners.
He is the most lightly charged of defendants ordered to stand trial so far but his testimony may prove key for prosecutors as they build cases against his co-accused.
At the end of the first arraignment, Davis' lawyer told the judge he had been withheld access to witnesses in the case, specifically two detainees allegedly harmed in the abuse.
The judge questioned the prosecution on the claim and instructed military authorities to allow the defence access.
"Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, both prosecution and defence should have equal access to witnesses," Judge Pohl said. "What I have heard strikes me as unequal access."
All three defendants chose to appoint civilian attorneys, who will work alongside military counsel for the defence.
The courtroom, a white, soundproofed meeting room on the ground floor of a large convention centre built by Saddam Hussein, was filled with soldiers and Arabic and international media assigned one of 34 spots to cover the trial.
No television cameras were allowed in the court, but the proceedings were transmitted on closed circuit television to a larger room of reporters in a nearby conference room.
All three defendants sat stiff-backed and looking straight ahead as the charges against them were read out.
Graner, who faces the most serious charges, including beating an inmate with an expandable baton, wore steel-rimmed glasses to the hearing, a change from the heavy brown-framed glasses he is pictured wearing in some photos of abuse.
The judge instructed all three defendants that they were expected to appear at their next hearing, but if they did not -- for instance if they were to go absent without leave (AWOL) -- the trial would still go ahead against them.
"I tell you that just for your own knowledge," said the judge, flown in from Germany to preside. "Quite frankly, going AWOL in Iraq would be quite a difficult thing anyway."