Wednesday January 12, 2005
Two detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told a US court martial yesterday how they were tortured and humiliated by US soldier Specialist Charles Graner Jr, who, one alleged, was the "primary torturer" at the prison.
Spc Graner, the first US soldier to go on trial in relation to the Abu Ghraib scandal, faces up to 17 years in jail if found guilty by a jury of four army officers and six enlisted men.
Prosecutors at the court martial at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, allege the army reservist was the ringleader of abuse of inmates at Abu Ghraib. He denies charges of assault and conspiracy to mistreat prisoners and his defence was expected to start today.
One of the detainees at the prison outside Baghdad, a Syrian insurgent who gave evidence by videolink, yesterday alleged that Spc Graner whistled, sang and laughed while brutalising him and forced him to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of his Muslim faith.
Amin al-Sheikh said Spc Graner threatened more than once to kill him and told him to thank Jesus for keeping him alive. He described Spc Graner as the "primary torturer" and "a naturally aggressive man".
In his testimony, the inmate also claimed he listened through his cell wall as Spc Graner and other Americans forced a Yemeni prisoner to eat from a toilet. He conceded that he did not see Spc Graner and others making the Yemeni prisoner eat from the toilet but said it was clear that was happening from what he heard.
Asked if Spc Graner appeared to enjoy hurting him, Mr Sheikh said through an interpreter: "He was laughing ... He laughed. He was whistling. He was singing."
Mr Sheikh said he went to Iraq in 2003 to fight US-led forces and was taken to Abu Ghraib after being captured with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and bomb-making material. While being held at a tent camp next to Abu Ghraib, he said, he was wounded in the leg and chest in a gun battle with Americans after he obtained a handgun from an Iraqi guard.
Mr Sheikh said he was later sent to Abu Ghraib, where Spc Graner jumped on his wounded leg and struck it with a collapsible metal stick. Another time, he said, Spc Graner handcuffed him to his cell door with his arms behind his back for eight hours.
Mr Sheikh testified that Spc Graner also accompanied a US soldier who urinated on him, and that Spc Graner was present when another American threatened to rape him.
Under defence questioning, Mr Sheikh said Spc Graner at times worked with Americans who were interrogating him at Abu Ghraib. He said interrogators known as "Steve" and "Mikey" made it clear that he would be roughed up by Spc Graner if he did not cooperate.
An Iraqi former inmate at the prison told the military court that he was among a group of prisoners stripped by Spc Graner and other Abu Ghraib guards, stacked up naked in a human pyramid while female soldiers watched, and later told to masturbate.
It was the release last year of demeaning photographs of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, including pictures of naked inmates apparently being paraded on leashes and being stacked in piles, that caused outrage around the world
"I couldn't imagine it in the beginning," Hussein Mutar said when asked how he felt during the alleged mistreatment. "I could kill myself because no one over there was stopping it from happening."
The prosecution rested after Mr Mutar's evidence. Spc Graner's lawyers have maintained that he and other soldiers had no choice but to obey orders by military and civilian intelligence officers to soften up detainees for questioning.
Speaking outside court after the video testimony, Spc Graner said he remembered Mr Sheikh: "The last time I saw him, he was threatening to kill me."
Defence lawyer Guy Womack said Mr Sheikh's testimony was good for his client. "It was the face of the enemy," Mr Womack said. "It's very clear that he hates America."
Three fellow guards from the 372nd Military Police Company have pleaded guilty to abusing detainees.
© Guardian 2005