Abu Ghraib trial ends as 'torturer' refuses to testify

Abu Ghraib trial ends as 'torturer' refuses to testify

Suzanne Goldenberg in Fort Hood, Texas
Friday January 14, 2005
The Guardian

The trial of the man labelled by the Pentagon the "primary torturer" at Abu Ghraib prison ended abruptly yesterday after the defendant decided at the last minute not to take the stand.

Specialist Charles Graner, who features prominently in some of the most graphic images from the Iraqi prison, had been expected to argue that he had only been following orders.

But his defence team said it had made its case in full to the military jury and saw no reason for the soldier to testify.

"We came in with a checklist with everything we wanted to present to the jury," said his defence attorney Guy Womack. "Once we accomplished that there was no reason to continue." A verdict is expected as early as today.

Throughout the proceedings in the small, dark-panelled court room in Fort Hood army base, the burly Graner had been almost ebullient.

"I feel fantastic. I'm still smiling," he said after proceedings wound down yesterday. Asked on the opening day of his trial if he felt any remorse for what went on at Abu Ghraib, the soldier rolled his eyes and smirked.

If he is found guilty by a jury of 10 soldiers, he could face 17 and a half years in prison for conspiracy, assault, maltreatment of detainees, indecency and dereliction of duty.

Graner's last-minute decision yesterday afternoon not to testify must in some ways have arrived as a relief for the Pentagon, removing any threat that the defiant soldier would try to implicate his superiors in the abuse.

In the Pentagon's view, the abuse at Abu Ghraib stopped at the enlisted ranks, and Graner was the "primary torturer", a brutal sadist who whistled as he administered beatings - once so hard that he broke a chair over a detainee - and threw prisoners' rations into the toilet.

Graner is already linked indelibly in the public mind with the most horrifying images from Abu Ghraib: giving a thumbs up over a pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees, and cajoling his then lover, Private Lynndie England, to pose with a dog leash around the neck of another prisoner.

Although Graner's defence put on an air of optimism yesterday, the decision to rest their arguments comes after the judge repeatedly refused their attempts to introduce evidence from use-of-force experts and other testimony to advance their case that piling naked detainees into a human pyramid and other practices were a legitimate form of prisoner control.

However, the trial did hear for the first time that officers ordered the sexual humiliation of an Iraqi detainee as an interrogation strategy.

Megan Ambuhl, who it emerged yesterday also had a sexual relationship with Graner, told the court interrogators used female guards to sexually humiliate prisoners.

"They asked me to sit in the shower, and to point and laugh at the detainees," said Ms Ambuhl, who pleaded guilty last year for her role in the abuse.

Another guard, Sgt Kenneth Davis, who has not been charged, said: "I thought the military intelligence was doing some pretty weird things with the detainees."

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