Soldier pleads guilty to failing in duty at Abu Ghraib

A woman who served as a military police officer at Abu Ghraib prison in
Iraq has pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, accepting responsibility
for not preventing or reporting detainee abuses at the hands of other US
soldiers in her company, according to her civilian lawyer and military
officials in Iraq.

Megan Ambuhl, 30, of Centreville, Va., entered her plea Saturday morning
in Baghdad as part of a deal with prosecutors, who agreed to drop
charges of conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, and indecent acts. In
a summary court-martial, which spared her the possibility of a lengthy
prison term, Ambuhl was sentenced to a reduction in rank from specialist
to private and was ordered to forfeit half a month's pay, a military
spokesman in Iraq said.

Ambuhl became the third soldier from the 372d Military Police Company to
plead guilty to charges connected with the scandal that erupted in April
after numerous photographs of detainee abuse became public. One soldier
received a year in prison and another, a supervisor, got eight years.

According to investigative documents, Ambuhl was the least involved in
the abuse of the seven soldiers who have been charged. She was accused
in large part of watching abusive acts and failing to report them.

Harvey Volzer, Ambuhl's civilian attorney based in Washington, said
yesterday that his client witnessed some abusive acts on Tier 1 of the
prison but did not report them because her superiors were involved and
military intelligence soldiers seemed to be sanctioning the acts. Volzer
said Ambuhl regrets not doing something to stop the abuses and shows

''I think we all came to the conclusion that my client didn't hit or
kick a detainee or anything like that," Volzer said. ''But everyone had
a duty to protect the detainees, and even if this was authorized from
above, in some instances it went too far."

According to investigative documents, Ambuhl was present when some
humiliating sexual abuses occurred in the prison's most secure wing,
including episodes when soldiers made naked and hooded detainees form a
pyramid and then posed with them for photographs. She is also partially
visible in a photograph that showed Private First Class Lynndie R.
England holding a leash attached to a naked detainee's neck.

Ambuhl was praised by several detainees for treating them well, and in
at least one instance she aided a detainee who was having trouble
breathing after being punched in the chest by another soldier, the
documents showed.

Volzer said Ambuhl's punishment is appropriate because of her limited
involvement, but he said he is dismayed by the lack of accountability by
higher-ranking officials who he says condoned the abuse.

''My position is that . . . the people who gave the orders should also
be punished," Volzer said. ''Since the orders came down from the White
House, someone has to bear responsibility for it."

Volzer said Ambuhl is prepared to testify at other military legal
proceedings. Additional courts-martial for those involved in the abuses
are scheduled to begin early next year.

Ambuhl, who was supposed to have returned home from duty last summer, is
expected to return within the next two weeks. Volzer said Ambuhl plans
to leave the military and to return to her job as a lab technician.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company
© 2004 The New York Times Company
By Josh White, Washington Post | November 3, 2004


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