Abu Ghraib A 'Crime Scene'

US soldiers walk through the halls of Abu Ghraib prison, Baghdad, Iraq, 5-5-04 AP

A military judge Monday declared the notorious Abu Ghraib prison a crime scene that cannot be dismantled — as President Bush had offered — and denied defense motions to move the trial of soldiers accused of abusing prisoners there out of Iraq.

Lawyers for three soldiers accused of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib disputed allegations that their clients were involved in illegal torture. The lawyers insisted their clients were following orders by senior officers and military intelligence.

"We can't have American soldiers in a war zone questioning the legality of orders," Guy Womack, the civilian lawyer for one of the defendants, Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., told reporters.

Womack said there was "a good chance" he would seek to question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld although he doubted he would try to depose Mr. Bush, although "certainly we will be considering it."

The judge, Col. James Pohl, issued the orders in pretrial hearings for Graner, Sgt. Javal S. Davis and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II. They are among seven soldiers accused of abusing prisoners. One of them, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to a year in prison.

Mr. Bush had offered to dismantle the facility to help remove the stain of torture and abuse from the new Iraq — an offer Iraqi officials had already dismissed. Saddam Hussein used Abu Ghraib to torture and murder his opponents.

Civilian lawyers for Davis and Graner won permission to seek testimony from the top U.S. general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and from the chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid.

But the judge turned down a request to seek testimony from higher-ranking witnesses including Rumsfeld, at this time. Pohl left open the possibility of calling other senior figures if the defense could show their testimony was relevant — which Womack said the lawyers intended to do.

Defense lawyers for the soldiers have long maintained their clients were simply following orders and that instructions for harsh treatment to detainees came from the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Davis' civil lawyer, Paul Bergrin, told reporters during a recess that he thought the hearing had gone well. He said lower-echelon troops at the prison had worked under intense pressure from their commanders and the CIA and were using "Israeli methods" — including nudity — known to work against Arab prisoners.

Lawyers for Davis and Graner also sought unsuccessfully to have the trial moved to the United States or Germany. However, Pohl said he might reconsider his ruling if future events in Iraq precluded a fair trial.

The judge granted a request by Bergrin to declassify all parts of an Army investigation report conducted by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.

Davis' military lawyer, Capt. Scott Dunn, failed to win an order to reopen the Article 32 investigation, which would have in effect dismissed the current charges. Dunn had argued that the military failed to make available a witness during the Article 32 proceedings, which ended with a recommendation for court martial.

Dunn said he wanted to question an inmate at Abu Ghraib.

"We couldn't go to him. They wouldn't bring him to us. They said it was impossible to obtain any telephone testimony. We object to not obtaining his testimony at all," Dunn said.

The Army has argued that a sharp rise in violence around the Abu Ghraib prison in April, including the siege of nearby Fallujah, made the area around the detention center too dangerous.

But Dunn said his client still had a right to confront his accusers.

Bergrin, Davis' civilian lawyer, said last week in the United States that he would argue for a dismissal of charges because of "improper command influence" extending all the way to Mr. Bush.

Bergrin alleged that senior U.S. military officers sanctioned harsh treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and said he would seek evidence that Davis was simply following orders.

A hearing for Frederick was postponed because his civilian lawyer did not show. No date for a trial has been set but Womack said he did not believe it would begin before October.

Frederick's civilian lawyer, Gary Myers, has said he will ask the judge for an investigator to assist in his client's defense. Myers also said he would request a new Article 32 hearing because his client was not allowed to gather evidence or interrogate witnesses at his first session.

The abuse scandal broke in April when CBS News' 60 Minutes II aired photographs of hooded and naked prisoners. Since then other photographs showing sexual humiliation have surfaced in a scandal that has sparked massive international criticism and undercut the moral authority of the U.S.-led mission in Iraq.

A hearing for another soldier charged in the scandal, Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, will be held separately on Tuesday at Fort Bragg, N.C., where she is now stationed.

The military has not decided whether to refer the cases against two others — Spc. Sabrina Harman and Pfc. Megan Ambuhl — to courts martial.

In related developments:

  • Time Magazine reports Senate Armed Services Committee investigators are looking into the possible sexual abuse of female prisoners.

  • The New York Times reports military and intelligence officials claim — contrary to Bush administration assertions — that none of the hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are senior operatives of al Qaeda, and only a few dozen are sworn al Qaeda members.

  • Britain's Ministry of Defense said Monday that it would investigate a newspaper's allegations that the bodies of Iraqis killed in a firefight with British soldiers were mutilated and showed signs of torture.
    • Jarrett Murphy

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