Soldier gets maximum sentence for Iraq abuse
Soldier gets maximum sentence for Iraq abuse
Sivits jailed for year, reduced in rank, discharged for bad conduct
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:43 p.m. ET May 19, 2004BAGHDAD, Iraq - Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits received the maximum penalty Wednesday - a year in prison, a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge - in the first court-martial stemming from mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
Sivits, 24, who pleaded guilty to four abuse charges, broke down in tears at his special court-martial as he apologized for taking pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated.
His lawyer, 1st Lt. Stanley Martin, had appealed to the judge, Col. James Pohl, to be lenient, saying Sivits could be rehabilitated and had made a contribution to society in the past.
Sivits himself pleaded with 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."
Fact File Courts-martial
What is a court-martial, and how does it work?
A court-martial is the military version of a civilian trial.
A defendant?s commanding officer learns that there may have been a violation of military law, and an inquiry is ordered. Based on the results of the inquiry, the commanding officer will decide to either issue an administrative punishment, seek to have the service member discharged, or decide the defendant should face a trial ? in what case a superior officer will convene a court-martial.
Who makes key decisions in the process?
Military commanders of the defendant decide which cases get prosecuted, on which charges, and who will make up the jury.
What is an Article 32 hearing?
An Article 32 hearing is the formal investigative proceeding convened once it is decided that the defendant should face a trial. Witnesses are called, and the defendant and a legal representative are entitled to be present. Results of Article 32 hearings determine whether the case will proceed to a formal court-martial trial.
Who makes up the jury?
The jury is not chosen from a pool assembled at random, as in a civilian trial. The jury is appointed by the military commander who recommended that the case go to trial.
In addition to normal defenses, the defendant can claim he/she was following a superior?s orders when committing the conduct at issue.
After the jury delberates, it prepares a single verdict recommending a single sentence to cover all the counts in the charge. The sentence can range from no punishment at all to the maximum allowed by military law. The jury, not the judge, decides the sentence.
Rights on appeal:
Convictions can be appealed, first to standing courts within the military services and then to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. In very rare cases, appeals can be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Once sentence is imposed at trial, defense lawyers can go back to the commander who called for the trial and appeal for clemency. The commander has wide latitude to reduce the sentence and can even wipe the conviction off the books.
Conviction includes cruelty
Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md., was found guilty of two counts of mistreating detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect them from abuse, cruelty and forcing a prisoner "to be positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers," a military briefer said after the proceedings.
The U.S. military appeals court in Washington will review the conviction and sentence. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, can dismiss or reduce the sentence.
Military officials said Sivits would be transferred to a military regional confinement facility to serve his sentence but did not specify which facility.
He had been expected to get a relatively light sentence and then testify against six other members of his units. But prosecutors asked Pohl to impose the harshest sentence despite Sivits' willingness to provide details about the crimes of other defendants, saying Sivits knew that abuse was banned by the Geneva Conventions, the series of international treaties governing the treatment of prisoners of war.
Earlier Wednesday, three other members of Sivits' company accused in the abuse - Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick and Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. - appeared for arraignment in the courtroom at the Baghdad Convention Center, in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
The three waived their rights to have charges read in court, and their pleas were deferred pending another hearing June 21 after defense lawyers complained that they had been denied access to two victims of abuse who were government witnesses. Pohl asked prosecutors for an explanation.
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 result in more severe punishments.
Arab media skeptical of proceedings
Arab television stations appeared deeply skeptical of the proceedings, with reporters from the satellite networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya questioning why cameras were barred from the courtroom.
Others demanded that higher-ranking U.S. 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 that his brother died in U.S. custody, said on al-Jazeera. "The punishment must be as severe as the crime."
Two senior Iraqi officials - Governing Council President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer and Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi - attended part of Sivits' trial.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, said a fair and impartial trial "will go a far way in demonstrating to people that, yes, these pictures did happen, yes, these acts did happen, but we?re taking the right corrective action to investigate, prosecute and bring to trial those accused of these crimes. "
1st Lt. Stanley L. Martin, Sivits' lawyer, had expressed concern about the huge media coverage of the trial, asking the judge, "Can you make a fair decision?"
Pohl replied: "Just because it's on TV, it doesn?t mean it's true."
Soldier describes abuses
In an emotional description of events at Abu Ghraib on the evening of Nov. 8, Sivits said he was asked by Frederick to accompany him to the prison facility.
Pausing in his struggle to speak, Sivits told Pohl that he was on detail outside Abu Ghraib and had done some maintenance work on generators when Frederick approached him. Sivits took a detainee with him, and when he arrived at the scene where the crimes took place, there were seven other detainees.
"I heard Corporal Graner yelling in Arabic at the detainees," he said. "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, 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 also said: "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.
quotes: Iraq prisoner abuse
Comments by participants in Friday's hearings on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners
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Sen. John Warner, R-Va. - I have had the privilege of being associated with and, more importantly, learning from the men and women of the armed forces for close to 60 years of my life, and I can say that the facts that I now have from a number of sources represent to me as serious an issue of military misconduct as I have ever observed.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. - The abuses that were committed against prisoners in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq dishonored our military and our nation and they made the prospects for success in Iraq even more difficult than they already are.
Our troops are less secure and our nation is less secure because these depraved and despicable actions will fuel the hatred and the fury of those who oppose us.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong.
So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.
Gen. Richard B. Myers - The situation is nothing less than tragic. The Iraqi people are trying to build a free and open society and I regret they saw such a flagrant violation of the very principles that are the cornerstone of such a society. I'm also terribly saddened at the hundreds of thousands of service men and women who are serving or who have served so honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, who have their reputation tarnished and their accomplishments diminished by those few who don?t uphold our military's values.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - I'm gravely concerned that many Americans will have the same impulse as I did when I saw this picture, and that's to turn away from them. And we risk losing public support for this conflict. As Americans turned away from the Vietnam War, they may turn away from this one unless this issue is quickly resolved with full disclosure immediately.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. - Why was a report that described sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses by American soldiers left to languish on a shelf in the Pentagon unread by the top leadership until the media revealed it to the world? Why wasn't Congress apprised of the findings of this report from the Defense Department instead of from CBS News?
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine - I think that rather than calling CBS and asking for a delay in the airing of the pictures, it would have been far better if you, Mr. Secretary, with all respect, had come forward and told the world about these pictures and of your personal determination - a determination I know you have - to set matters right and to hold those responsible accountable.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. - Now, one obvious judgment is that the 800th M.P. Brigade was totally dysfunctional, from Brigadier General Karpinski on down, with few exceptions. And on the surface, you could portray the 800th M.P. Brigade as a reserve unit with poor leadership and poor training. However, the abuse of prisoners is not merely a failure of an M.P. brigade. It?s a failure of the chain of command, Mr. Secretary.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif. - We're here today for a simple reason. Last year, several members of the United States military disgraced the uniform. By abusing enemy detainees, a handful of miscreants broke our laws, embarrassed our country and created an international incident. Unlike Saddam who practiced such abuse, and much worse as a matter of state policy, the United States does not tolerate that kind of behavior. The military will bring the guilty to justice, just as surely as Saddam could not escape accountability for his crimes.
He quoted one of the six other 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.
Martin, Sivits' lawyer, told Pohl that Sivits had reached a pre-trial agreement with the prosecution, presumably to testify against others accused in the case.
In Sivits' tiny hometown, Hyndman, Pa., more than 200 residents wore yellow ribbons and clutched small U.S. flags during a candlelight vigil to support him.
His father, Daniel Sivits, made a brief statement.
"I want to make explicitly clear [that] Jeremy, no matter what, is still my son. We still love him," Daniel Sivits said. "I am veteran of the Vietnam War, and I want to say one thing ? Jeremy is always a vet in my heart and in my mind."
Others' defense: Following orders
Graner's lawyer, Guy Womack, said Wednesday that his client was following orders at the prison and that officers from military intelligence and the CIA and civilian contractors were directing the abuse.
"The photographs were being staged and created by these intelligence officers and, of course, we have the two photographs that prove that they were present and supervising," Womack said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
He said Graner sought clarification of his orders and complained to his superiors and to military intelligence officers about what he was being asked to do.
"All of them consistently said that he was to follow the order and not question it. So he didn't," the lawyer said. Warner added that Sivits also was simply following orders.
"Specialist Sivits ... should have gone to trial and been acquitted like the others," Womack said. "I feel sorry for the young specialist pleading guilty."
Rights groups barred from court martial
The U.S. military allowed news coverage of the proceedings in the hope that it would demonstrate U.S. resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.
Nine Arab newspapers, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are among 34 news organizations that were allowed to have reporters in the courtroom. No audio or TV recordings were allowed, however.
Was the court-martial sentence enough punishment? * 73327 responses
Human Rights Watch said U.S. occupation authorities also refused to allow Iraqi and international human rights groups to attend the court martial.
"Barring human rights monitors from the court martial is a bad decision in its own right," Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement. "It also sends a terrible signal to Iraqis and others deeply concerned about what transpired in Abu Ghraib."
The case has been closely followed by many of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, with varied opinions.
"If these people are guilty, it should come out," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tracey Reddish, 34. "Court-martials are very fair."
Another Marine, Lance Cpl. Kyle Morgan, 20, said the case was pushed by "the people in Washington sitting in their cushy chairs, judging our men here who are trying to save lives. ... But the politicians are just worried about their own necks."
The scandal broke last month with the broadcast and publication of pictures of prisoners suffering sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of U.S. military police serving as guards at Abu Ghraib. One photo showed a naked, hooded prisoner on a box with wires fastened to his hands and his genitals. According to Fredericks' indictment, the detainee was told that he would be electrocuted if he touched the ground.
Another picture showed England holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked prisoner on the floor.
U.S. officials have said the abuses were confined to a small group of guards at Abu Ghraib, although the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International say abuse was more systematic and widespread.
But Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, suggested Wednesday that mistreatment was more extensive than previously acknowledged, saying the military had investigated 75 cases of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan since late 2002.
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