US soldier on trial for Iraq prisoner abuse
U.S. military policeman Specialist Jeremy Sivits faces a court martial today on charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners, the first in a series of trials that could shake President George W. Bush's administration.
The cases to be brought to trial have drawn calls for the resignation of U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, who have been grilled in Congress over what they knew about the affair and when.
Sivits, who is said to have taken many of the pictures of abuse and humiliation at Abu Ghraib prison, is the most lightly charged of the defendants so far ordered to stand trial, although he is also accused of manhandling detainees.
His testimony may prove key for military prosecutors as they build cases against his co-accused, three of whom -- Specialist Charles Graner, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Sergeant Javal Davis -- will be arraigned on more severe charges on the morning of Sivits' trial.
In others, one naked and bound detainee is being dragged by a leash around his neck, and another is being threatened by unmuzzled dogs as he cowers naked against his cell door.
The U.S. administration has said the abuses were limited to a few soldiers in one prison, but the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International have issued reports saying the abuse was more systematic and widespread than that and more Iraqis have come forward to allege abuse.
Human Rights Watch wrote to Bush on Tuesday saying U.S. interrogators' deliberate ratcheting up of pain, suffering and humiliation violated the Geneva and other conventions.
"The sexual humiliation and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison is just a symptom of a larger problem," Kenneth Roth, executive director of the group wrote. "The Bush administration as a matter of policy has approved a wide range of coercive interrogation techniques that are illegal."
THREE WOMEN AWAIT WORD
Three other soldiers, all women and members of the 800th Military Police Brigade, have been charged but have not yet been referred for court martial for the abuse.
Sivits' lawyers have indicated that their client, who faces a special rather than a general court martial and with it much lesser potential penalties, will plead guilty to the charges.
In an effort to show it can bring its own soldiers to justice, even as more and more ordinary Iraqis become disillusioned, the U.S. military is holding the trial in public, in a conference hall that was once part of Saddam Hussein's presidential complex.
Scores of the world's media, including Arabic television channels and Iraqi newspapers, have been invited to cover the event, which U.S. commanders have promised will not be a show trial. The proceedings will not be televised.
Under the terms of a special court martial, the maximum sentence Sivits could face if convicted would be 12 months' detention, a reduction in grade to private, the docking of two-thirds pay and allowances for a year and a fine.
The court can also issue a bad conduct discharge from the military, a lesser dismissal than a dishonourable discharge which only comes via a general court martial.
Graner, Frederick and Davis, who are set to be arraigned at 10 a.m. (7 a.m. British time) in the same room where Sivits will be tried, face general courts martial and are charged with much more severe crimes including multiple counts of mistreatment, indecent acts and grievous bodily harm.
No date has yet been set for their trials. A lawyer for Frederick has indicated that he may introduce a motion to have his client's trial take place outside of Iraq.