Sivits receives harshest penalty in first court-martial for Iraqi prisoner scandal

PTI | ByAssociated Press, Baghdad
May 25, 2004 08:01 PM IST

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits received the maxium penalty Wednesday one year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge in the first court-martial stemming from mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits received the maxium penalty Wednesday one year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge in the first court-martial stemming from mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison.

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Sivits, who pleaded guilty to four abuse charges, broke down in tears as he apologized for taking pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated.

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"I'd like to apologize to the Iraqi people and those detainees," he said in his statement. "I should have protected those detainees, not taken the photos."

During the hearing, Sivits, 24, told the court he saw one U.S. soldier punch one Iraqi in the head and other guards stomp on the hands and feet of detainees. He also recounted that prisoners were stripped and forced to form a human pyramid.

His laywer had appealed to the court for leniency, saying Sivits could be rehabilitated and had contributed to society in the past. Sivits himself pleaded with the judge, Col. James Pohl, to allow him to remain in the army, which he said had been his lifes' goal. "I have learned huge lessons, sir," he said. "You can't let people abuse people like they have done."

Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit, was found guilty of two counts of mistreating detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect them from abuse, cruelty, and forcing a prisoner "to be positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers," a military briefer said after the proceedings.

Military officials said Sivits would be transferred to a military regional confinement facility to serve his sentence. They said he would probably be confined at stockades either at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or Mannheim, Germany. He had been expected to get a relatively light sentence and then testify against others. But prosecutors asked the judge to impose the harshest sentence despite Sivits' willingness to provide details about the crimes of other defendants, saying that Sivits knew that abuse was banned by the Geneva Conventions.

The conviction and sentence will be reviewed by the U.S. military appeals court in Washington. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, can dismiss or reduce the sentence. Earlier Wednesday, three others from Sivits' company accused in the abuse _ Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. _ appeared for arraignment in the courtroom at the Baghdad Convention Center, located in the heavily guarded Green Zone.

The three waived their rights to have charges read in court, and their pleas were deferred pending another hearing June 21 after the defense complained it had been denied access to two victims of abuse who were government witnesses. The judge asked prosecutors for an explanation.

Arab television stations appeared deeply skeptical of the proceedings, with reporters from the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya satellite networks questioning why cameras were barred from the courtroom. Others demanded that higher ranking American officials be punished.

"Those who are executing the laws and the orders are not the problem ... Punishment of the officials who gave the orders is what matters," Samer al-Ubedi, who claimed his brother died in U.S. custody, told al-Jazeera. "The punishment must be as severe as the crime."

About 100 Iraqis protested at the edge of the Green Zone, carrying Iraqi flags and a large poster of the picture showing an Iraqi prisoner held by a dog leash.

Two senior Iraqi officials _ Governing Council President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer and Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi _ attended part of the Sivits trial.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq, said a fair and impartial trial "will go a far way in demonstrating to people that, yes, these pictures did happen, yes, these acts did happen, but we're taking the right corrective action to investigate, prosecute and bring to trial those accused of these crimes. " 1st Lt. Stanley L. Martin, Sivits' lawyer, had expressed concern about the huge media coverage of the trial, asking the judge, "Can you make a fair decision?"

Pohl replied: "Just because it's on TV, it doesn't mean it's true."

In an emotional description of events at Abu Ghraib prison on the evening of Nov. 8, Sivits said he was asked by Frederick to accompany him to the prison facility.

Pausing in his struggle to speak, Sivits told the judge he was on detail outside Abu Ghraib and had done some maintenance work on generators when Frederick approached him. Sivits took a detainee with him, and when he arrived at the scene where the crimes took place, there were seven other detainees.

"I heard Cpl. Graner yelling in Arabic at the detainees," he said. "I saw one of the detainees
lying on the floor. They were laying there on the floor, sandbags over their heads." Sgt.

Javal Davis, 26, and another soldier, Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, were "stamping on their toes
and hands."

"Graner punched the detainee in the head or temple area," Sivits said. "I said. 'I think you might have knocked him out."' Sivits also said: "Graner complained that he had injured his hand and said, "Damn, that hurt."'

Sivits said all prisoners were then stripped and forced to form a human pyramid.

He quoted one of the other six accused soldiers, whom he did not identify, as saying guards
were "told to keep doing what they were doing by military intelligence." He added, however, that he did not believe the soldier.

The defense lawyer told the judge that Sivits had reached a pre-trial agreement with the prosecution, presumably to testify against others accused in the case.

In Sivits' tiny home town of Hyndman, Pennsylvania, more than 200 residents wore yellow ribbons and clutched small American flags during a candlelight vigil to support him.

His father, Daniel Sivits, made a brief statement. "I want to make explicitly clear, Jeremy, no matter what, is still my son. We still love him," Daniel Sivits said. "I am veteran of the Vietnam war, and I want to say one thing _ Jeremy is always a vet in my heart and in my mind."

Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack, said Wednesday that his client was following orders at the prison, and that officers from U.S. military intelligence and the CIA and civilian contractors were directing the abuse.

"The photographs were being staged and created by these intelligence officers and, of course,
we have the two photographs that prove that they were present and supervising," Womack said in an interview with ABC TV's "Good Morning America." He said Graner sought clarification of his orders and complained to his superiors and to military intelligence officers about what he was being asked to do.

"All of them consistently said that he was to follow the order and not question it. So he didn't," the lawyer said. Warner added that Sivits also was simply following orders. On Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits' plea deal:

"Spc. Sivits ... should have gone to trial and been acquitted like the others," the lawyer said. "I feel sorry for the young specialist pleading guilty."

The U.S. military allowed news coverage of the proceedings in the hope it will demonstrate American resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.

Nine Arab newspapers and the prominent Arab television networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are among 34 news organizations allowed to have reporters in the courtroom. No audio or TV recordings will be allowed in the courtroom, however.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that U.S. occupation authorities have refused to allow
Iraqi and international human rights groups to attend the court martial.

"Barring human rights monitors from the court martial is a bad decision in its own right," Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement. "It also sends a terrible signal to Iraqis and others deeply concerned about what transpired in Abu Ghraib." The case has been closely followed by many of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq _ with varied opinions.

"If these people are guilty, it should come out," Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tracey Reddish, 34,
said. "Court-martials are very fair."

Another Marine, Lance Cpl. Kyle Morgan, 20, said the case was pushed by "the people in
Washington sitting in their cushy chairs, judging our men here who are trying to save lives ... But the politicians are just worried about their own necks." The scandal broke last month with the broadcast and publication of pictures of prisoners suffering sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of American MPs serving as guards at Abu Ghraib.

One photo showed a naked, hooded prisoner on a box with wires fastened to his hands and genitals. According to Fredericks' indictment, the detainee had been told he would be electrocuted if he touched the ground.

Another picture showed a female MP holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked prisoner on the floor.

The report also said intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition had told Red Cross officials that up to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees had been arrested by mistake.

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