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Soldier Gets Maximum Sentence in First Iraq Abuse Court-Martial

BY Admin  May 19, 2004 at 6:23 PM EDT

During the proceedings, Sivits told military judge Col. James Pohl that fellow U.S. soldiers sexually humiliated naked Iraqi detainees and punched one so hard he needed medical attention.

Sivits broke down in tears as he expressed remorse for taking pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners.

“I’d like to apologize to the Iraqi people and those detainees,” he said in his statement. “I should have protected those detainees, not taken the photos.”

“I have learned huge lessons, sir,” he added. “You can’t let people abuse people like they have done.”

As part of a plea agreement, Sivits agreed to testify in other cases stemming from the abuse at Abu Ghraib, U.S. military officials said.

The court found Sivits guilty of two counts of mistreating detainees; dereliction of duty for failing to protect them from abuse and 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 court-martial.

Sivits’ lawyer, 1st Lt. Stanley Martin, had appealed to the judge to be lenient, saying Sivits could be rehabilitated and had contributed to society in the past.

Sivits, a 24-year-old military police reservist, took pictures of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated at Abu Ghraib prison.

During his statement, he told the court he saw one U.S. soldier punch an Iraqi in the head and also described prisoners being stripped and forced to form a human pyramid. Sivits said the prison resembled a “horror movie” when he arrived last year, adding that it was overcrowded with detainees and regularly attacked by mortars, rockets and small arms fire.

He was a mechanic rather than a trained guard, but on Nov. 8 he helped escort a detainee to a different area of the prison.

“When I turned the corner, that’s when I saw the detainees lying there,” he said. “They were just lying there with sandbags over their heads.”

He accused Spc. Charles Graner and Pfc. Lynndie England of stamping on the feet of detainees with their boots, while Spc. Sabrina Harman checked their identities.

Questioned by the judge, Sivits said he had not seen such treatment before but knew it was wrong.

“I led the detainee in and pushed him into the pile,” he said. “Once I saw the people being stomped on I knew he was going to be assaulted.”

Asked if he could have protected the man he was escorting, Sivits said, “I feel that I could have.”

Graner took out a camera and asked Sivits to take a picture of him cradling a detainee’s head in his arm and making as if to punch him, Sivits said.

In Washington, the two top military commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, told senators the inquiry into the scandal would continue. Sanchez said the mistreatment will be investigated thoroughly up the chain of command, “and that includes me.”

Meanwhile, coalition military officials have denied Arab media reports that a U.S. helicopter Wednesday fired on a wedding party near the border with Syria, killing more than 40 people.

Between 42 and 45 people died, including 15 children and ten women, Deputy Police Chief Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east, told the Associated Press.

Iraqis interviewed on Associated Press Television News said revelers had fired volleys of gunfire into the air in a traditional wedding celebration before the attack took place. American troops have previously mistaken celebratory gunfire for hostile fire in Afghanistan.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S. military in Iraq, told Reuters the attack was within the military’s rules of engagement.

Kimmitt said there were no indications that the victims were part of a wedding party. He said a large amount of money, Syrian passports and satellite communications equipment was found at the site after the attack.

“We took ground fire and we returned fire,” Kimmitt told the news agency.