Abu Ghraib Dog Handler Sentenced

The sun rises on the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 22, 2004. On Monday a judge declared the notorious prison a crime scene and forbade its destruction, as had been previously offered by President Bush. AP

A military jury sentenced an Army dog handler to 90 days hard labor and a reduction in rank Friday for allowing his Belgian shepherd to bark within inches of an Iraqi detainee's face at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Army Sgt. Santos A. Cardona was the 11th soldier convicted of crimes stemming from the abuse of inmates at the prison in late 2003 and early 2004.

He was found guilty of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault for allowing his dog to bark in the face of a kneeling detainee at the request of another soldier who was not an interrogator.

The military jury acquitted him of other charges, including unlawfully having his dog bite a detainee and conspiring with another dog handler to frighten prisoners as a game.

Cardona will not be confined during his sentence, but will return to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where his company commander will decide what extra duties to assign as hard labor, said Lt. Col. Bobbi J.W. Davis. Cardona likely will lose his security clearance, which would bar him from resuming work as a military policeman, Davis said.

Cardona's rank was reduced to specialist and the court ordered him to forfeit $600 a month in pay for 12 months.

"It wasn't an acquittal," Cardona's civilian attorney, Harvey Volzer, told his client, "but it was pretty darn good."

Prosecutor Maj. Matthew Miller had recommended 12 months confinement and a bad conduct discharge.

"You can win all kinds of battles and end up losing the whole dang war basically for boneheaded decisions and misjudgments," Miller told the jury.

Santos' military lawyer, Capt. Kirsten M. Mayer, said Miller exaggerated the circumstances.

"What we have here is a soldier who let his dog get too close to a detainee, and the dog barked," she told the jury.

Although none of the offenses was alleged to have occurred during interrogations, Cardona's defense team focused on interrogation policies, including three memos issued in a month's time by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The memos authorized harsher interrogation techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and dogs at Abu Ghraib, but only with written authorization.

The changing policies confounded Col. Thomas M. Pappas, an intelligence officer who assumed the prison's management in late 2003. Pappas was reprimanded last year for approving a request to use dogs in an interrogation without Sanchez' approval, something Pappas testified he believed at the time the policy allowed.

"We were all confused at one time or another," Pappas testified.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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