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Key Iraq Prison Abuse Trial Begins

When the photographs emerged in April, worldwide condemnation followed: U.S. soldiers were shown giving the thumbs-up next to naked, hooded Iraq prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Opening statements were set to start Monday in the court-martial of Spc. Charles Graner Jr., the alleged ringleader of the scandal. Graner, 36, is charged with conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts.

An all-male jury of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men was picked Friday to decide his fate in what is expected to be a weeklong trial. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 17 1/2 years in a military prison.

Graner said after jury selection that his spirits remain high despite the stakes. "Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it's going to be on the positive side, and I'm going to have a smile on my face," Graner said.

Under military law, a conviction requires guilty votes by seven of the 10 jurors. All the jurors have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack of Houston, said that while he almost never lets his clients take the stand, he may bend that rule for the Graner, an Army reservist from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

"He is a calm, cool professional. He's very articulate, very bright," Womack said of the one-time prison guard. "Frankly, I don't know anyone else in the case who can articulate everything as well as he can, so that would be a strong reason for him to testify."

Among the witnesses arrayed against him are fellow members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company who have reached plea deals with Army prosecutors. Iraqi detainees were expected to testify in videotaped depositions.

Three more soldiers from the 372nd also are awaiting trial at Fort Hood. One is Lynndie England, who in October gave birth to a child who Army prosecutors say was the result of a relationship with Graner.

Womack plans to argue that Graner was told by higher-ranking soldiers and intelligence agents to rough up the detainees prior to interrogation, and that he had no choice but to obey despite personal misgivings.

The photographs showed members of the 372nd grinning, clowning and giving the thumbs-up next to naked, hooded prisoners. Some were stacked in heaps. Others were in sexual positions. One picture apparently showed a prisoner attached to wires, standing atop a box; viewers were told he had been led to believe he would get an electrical shock if he stepped off.

Womack said the photos, while explicit, are not proof that Graner committed any crimes under military law. If the orders he was given were lawful or if he didn't know they were unlawful, the jury must acquit, he said.

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