The court's ruling on Wednesday followed a three-hour hearing in Baghdad that saw Sivits plead guilty to the charges against him and express sorrow to the people of Iraq.
"I'd like to apologize to the Iraqi people and those detainees," Sivits said, breaking down in tears as he made his statement. "I should have protected those detainees, not taken the photos."
In Washington, meanwhile, the top military commander in Iraq told Congress that the troops at Abu Ghraib and their entire chain of command will be investigated as part of the probe into abuse of Iraqiprisoners. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez added: "And that includes me."
Sanchez and his commanding officer, Gen. John Abizaid, appeared before a Senate committee delving into the prisoner abuse.
Speaking of the military situation in Iraq, Abizaid predicted that the insurgency would grow even more violent after the transfer of limited sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. "It's possible we might need more forces" in that case, he said, adding that he hoped more international troops would join the U.S.-led coalition.
The committee chairman, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also announced that the Pentagon had discovered yet another disk containing pictures of abuse at the Baghdad prison. He said lawmakers would be permitted to view them.
In Baghdad, Sivits, 24, told the court he saw one U.S. soldier punch an Iraqi in the head and other guards stomp on the hands and feet of detainees. He also recounted that prisoners were stripped and forced to form a human pyramid.
As part of a plea agreement, Sivits agreed to testify in other cases in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. Three others from Sivit's Reserve unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., appeared for arraignment Wednesday in the courtroom at the Baghdad Convention Center, located in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
Sivits' lawyer had asked the court for leniency, and Sivits pleaded with the judge, Col. James Pohl, to allow him to remain in the Army, which he said had been his life's goal.
"I have learned huge lessons, sir," he said. "You can't let people abuse people like they have done."
Sivits had been expected to get a relatively light sentence, but prosecutors asked for the harshest penalty — despite Sivits' willingness to testify against others — saying Sivits knew abuse was banned by the Geneva Conventions.
Arab television stations appeared deeply skeptical of the proceedings, with reporters from the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya satellite networks questioning why audio and video recordings were not permitted. Others demanded that higher ranking American officials be punished.
"Those who are executing the laws and the orders are not the problem ... Punishment of the officials who gave the orders is what matters," Samer al-Ubedi, who claimed his brother died in U.S. custody, told al-Jazeera. "The punishment must be as severe as the crime."
While Sivits faced what the Army calls a special court-martial, similar to a misdemeanor trial, the six others who have been charged will probably face general courts-martial, which can yield more severe punishments.
The three in court Wednesday — Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. — waived their rights to have charges read aloud, and their pleas were deferred pending another hearing June 21. The defense complained it was denied access to two victims of abuse who were government witnesses, and the judge asked prosecutors for an explanation.
The abuse scandal broke last month with the broadcast and publication of pictures of prisoners suffering sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of American MPs serving as guards at Abu Ghraib.
One photo showed a naked, hooded prisoner on a box with wires fastened to his hands and genitals. Another picture showed a female MP holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked prisoner on the floor.
In an emotional description of events on the evening of Nov. 8, Sivits said he was asked by Frederick to accompany him to the prison. Sivits said he agreed, and took a detainee with him.
When he arrived at the scene where the crimes took place, there were seven other detainees.
"I heard Cpl. Graner yelling in Arabic at the detainees," Sivits told the judge. "I saw one of the detainees lying on the floor. They were laying there on the floor, sandbags over their heads."
Davis and another soldier, Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, were "stamping on their toes and hands."
"Graner punched the detainee in the head or temple area," Sivits said. "I said. 'I think you might have knocked him out.'"
Sivits added: "Graner complained that he had injured his hand and said, 'Damn, that hurt.'"
Sivits said all prisoners were then stripped and forced to form a human pyramid.
He quoted one of the other six accused soldiers, whom he did not identify, as saying guards were "told to keep doing what they were doing by military intelligence." He added, however, that he did not believe the soldier.