BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Stung by a worldwide outcry,
the U.S. military yesterday announced the first court-martial in
the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse allegations, ordering a reservist to
face a public trial in Baghdad on May 19.

Spc. Jeremy Sivits of Hyndman, Pa., a member of the 372nd
Military Police Company, will face a military court less than a
month after photos of prisoners being abused and humiliated were
first broadcast April 28.

Both the speed of the trial’s scheduling and the venue in
the Iraqi capital underscore the military’s realization that
it must demonstrate resolve in prosecuting those responsible for a
scandal that threatens to undermine the U.S. mission in Iraq and
President Bush’s re-election chances.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, announcing the trial date, said the
proceedings would be held in the Baghdad Convention Center, which
houses the coalition press office, and be open to media
coverage.

Bush promised Saturday that “we will learn all the facts
and determine the full extent of these abuses. Those involved will
be identified. They will answer for their actions.”
 Sivits is one of seven soldiers facing charges but appears to
be a lesser figure in the case. Some of the others will likely face
a general court martial, which can give more severe punishments
than the “special” court martial that will try Sivits.
His trial could produce evidence for prosecuting others believed to
be more culpable.

Sivits is believed to have taken some of the photos that
triggered the scandal.

His father, Daniel Sivits, said last month his son “was
told to take a picture, and he did what he was told.” He said
his son trained as a mechanic but found himself performing military
police work for which he was unqualified.

The family said it had no comment yesterday morning.

Sivits was charged with conspiracy to mistreat detainees,
dereliction of duty for failing to protect prisoners and
maltreatment of detainees. Seven officers have received
career-ending reprimands.

If convicted, Sivits could face one year in prison, reduction in
rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a
fine or a bad conduct discharge. Penalties could include only one,
all or any combination of those punishments.

Sivits will be able to choose between trial before a single
military judge or a three-member panel of senior officers. He has
the right to a civilian attorney and will have access to military
counsel.

Officials hope the trial will convince Iraqis that the United
States does not tolerate torture reminiscent of the darkest days of
Saddam Hussein and will act swiftly to punish those responsible.
Saddam’s regime used the grim Abu Ghraib facility, located on
the western edge of Baghdad, to torture and murder thousands of his
critics.

The trials could determine whether abuse at Abu Ghraib was an
aberration — as the U.S. command insists — or stemmed
from pressure from military intelligence units to make detainees
more compliant under questioning.

Months before the scandal broke, the International Committee of
the Red Cross told top Washington officials it had problems with
the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and at the U.S. detention center
in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Antonella Notari, chief agency
spokeswoman.

She said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger spoke about prison
conditions during January meetings with Secretary of State Colin
Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

“He raised concerns regarding detention in Iraq, along
with Guantanamo and other locations,” Notari told The
Associated Press in Geneva.

One soldier facing charges, Spc. Sabrina Harman, said she and
others with the 372nd Military Police Company took direction from
Army military intelligence officers, CIA operatives and civilian
contractors who conducted interrogations.

American officials have insisted the abuses at Abu Ghraib were
carried out by a handful of soldiers who failed to follow
procedures and were not part of a systematic program of
brutality.

“Please don’t paint with such a wide brush that it
indicts the other 135,000 American soldiers and Marines out there
doing the right thing,” Kimmitt told reporters. He said
investigators believe that only a “very small number of
guards” were involved.

However, Iraqis freed from U.S. custody since the war began in
March 2003 have long told of abusive treatment including lying
bound in the sun for hours; being attacked by dogs; being deprived
of water; and left hooded for days. Until photos were published,
their complaints won little attention except from human rights
groups.

Last summer, Amnesty International said it learned Red Cross
inspectors were finding serious abuses, and it charged that
“torture and gross abuse of human rights” were
occurring.

On Friday, the ICRC disclosed it had repeatedly demanded last
year that U.S. authorities correct problems at Abu Ghraib and other
detention centers. The Americans took action on some issues but not
others, it said.

“We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual
acts. There was a pattern and a system,” Pierre Kraehenbuel,
the Red Cross operations director, said in Geneva.

U.S. lawmakers have warned that the most repulsive photos have
yet to be released and have insisted that the Army investigation
should have repercussions for higher-ups, not just the military
police accused of abusing detainees.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.