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Abuse Cases Move Forward

A U.S. military judge Monday rejected a defense motion to bar evidence gained from a key suspect's computer in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The defense had claimed investigators acted improperly in taking material from the laptop.

Judge Col. James Pohl also rejected a defense motion to have Spc. Charles Graner's eventual trial moved out of Iraq, saying the request was premature.

As the two-day hearing began at a U.S. military base in Germany, lawyers for Graner — identified in previous testimony as the alleged ringleader — suggested he had been too tired to make a clear decision about his rights when he allowed investigators to take a computer and CDs from his quarters at the prison in January.

But Pohl rejected a defense request to bar anything found on the laptop as evidence, while stressing that the point could be raised again later once it became clear what was on the computer.

He granted a defense motion to suppress a statement by Graner, cited by an investigator who testified Monday, that "everything you want is in my computer."

Graner, 35, is among four soldiers charged with abuse at Abu Ghraib who is facing hearings this week at a heavily secured U.S. military base in Mannheim. Spc. Megan Ambuhl's case was to be heard later Monday, while Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Spc. Javal Davis had hearings set for Tuesday.

In developments in other abuse cases:

Nagem Sadoon Hatab, an Iraqi POW, died of strangulation last year at a holding facility near Nasiriyah, the first death of an Iraqi prisoner to be acknowledged by the U.S. military.

Reserve Sgt. Gary Pittman, of New York, is one of three men charged in the June 2003 death. He could receive more than three years in a military prison if found guilty on two charges of dereliction of duty and four counts of assault.

The accused Marines and their lawyers say Hatab died of natural causes, perhaps an asthma attack.

Pittman's military trial was set to begin Monday. More than 40 witnesses were scheduled to testify at his court-martial, which is expected to last about three weeks.

According to a fellow Marine who has been granted immunity, Pittman karate-kicked Hatab in the chest so hard that he flew three feet before hitting the floor.

Hatab, 52, had been rumored to be an official of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Baath party, as well as involved in the ambush of a U.S. Army convoy that killed 11 soldiers and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and five others.

Within 48 hours of his arrest, a guard found a lifeless Hatab lying naked and covered in his own waste in a yard.

Hatab is among 37 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners whose deaths are being investigated. His was the only one to occur at Camp Whitehorse, outside Nasiriyah; the facility has since been closed.

Conditions there were harsh. Prisoners used cardboard boxes for toilets and prisoners slept on the floor of a stone building. During the day, the outside temperature reached 120 degrees.

Guards came from the New York-based 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. The reservists were attached to Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Division when they landed in Iraq.

According to pretrial testimony taken at Camp Pendleton earlier this year, none of the reservists had been trained to run a military prison.

At preliminary hearings, Col. William Gallo found that Hatab and another inmate received "arbitrary beatings" from Pittman and Lance Cpl. William Roy, a Rensselaer County jail guard from Troy, N.Y.

Roy, who testified under immunity, said Pittman — who in civilian life was a guard at a New York City federal prison — karate-kicked the handcuffed, hooded man in the chest.

Maj. Clarke Paulus, who commanded the detention center at Camp Whitehorse, allegedly authorized a Marine to grab Hatab by the neck to drag him to a holding pen.

An autopsy concluded that he had seven broken ribs and slowly suffocated from a crushed windpipe.

Eight Marines originally were charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide. However, Gallo found that while Hatab had been illegally assaulted, it could not be determined who caused his death.

Two other men also face charges in Hatab's death.

Paulus faces a court-martial next month on charges of dereliction of duty and assault, and two charges of cruelty and maltreatment. He could get 5½ years if convicted. Whitehorse base commander Maj. Michael Froeder faces charges of negligence and abuse of prisoners.

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