In his first interview since being released, former Army Sgt. Javal S. Davis said the open sewage, rotting body parts and constant fear of death from rockets and bombs around Abu Ghraib would "drive the most docile soldier from 'Gomer Pyle' into 'Full Metal Jacket."'
Davis was released from military prison Sunday after serving less than four months for mistreating detainees. The former high school track star admitted stepping on the hands and feet of handcuffed detainees and falling with his full weight on top of them.
He said he regrets the part he played in an episode that generated widespread anti-American sentiment, but contends it was blown out of proportion by the media.
"I'm a good person," Davis said in the interview at his lawyer's office. "The way I was portrayed as a soldier at Abu Ghraib is 100 percent untrue. I'm not the bad apple soldier I was portrayed as being by the military."
Davis, 27, of Roselle, N.J., got the lightest sentence of any of the military personnel convicted thus far in the scandal.
He pleaded guilty in February to assault, dereliction of duty and lying to Army investigators. His sentence also included being reduced in rank to private and receiving a bad conduct discharge.
"I don't believe it should have been trumped up the way it was," he said. "I don't believe it should have been spread around the world. That alone escalated the danger for other soldiers, the media coverage alone."
His lawyer, Paul Bergrin, plans to petition top military commanders in Iraq to overturn the discharge and grant Davis an honorable one, citing the seven years he served in Bosnia, Egypt and Iraq.
Davis, who served in Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit based in Maryland, said he and other military police officers at Abu Ghraib were ill-trained to deal with conditions there and constantly pressured to obtain information from detainees.
"It was a city of lost souls," he said of the prison once used by Saddam Hussein's regime to torture and execute its foes. "It's a very dark, gloomy, dirty, dank place. Words can't describe it."
He said he and others had to deal with an alien world in which nothing was normal.
"That was the most extreme situation any military policeman had to endure," he said. "Under any other circumstances, I would have treated those guys (the detainees) with dignity and respect. A lot of things soldiers did there were out of character."
Four others from the 372nd made plea deals with prosecutors. Charles Graner Jr. was found guilty in January and is serving a 10-year sentence in the case. Pfc. Lynndie England, the best-known defendant in the scandal, may face trial after her effort at a plea deal fell through last month.