FORT HOOD, Texas - An Iraqi man imprisoned at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison angrily described a night of lurid abuses in videotaped testimony yesterday, saying he was stripped naked, punched in the chest, piled on top of fellow inmates and forced into sexual poses by U.S. soldiers who treated the events as sport.
"They were torturing us as if it were a theater for them, laughter," detainee Hussein Mutar said in testimony yesterday at the court-martial of Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., the first soldier to contest charges against him in the prison abuse scandal. "It's changed [my] perspective on all Americans and everything they were doing."
Military prosecutors presented testimony from Mutar and a second Abu Ghraib detainee before resting their case after less than two days of evidence, from 14 witnesses.
Defense attorneys could call Graner to the stand as early as today to counter allegations that he was the ringleader of prison abuses that came to light early last year through widely circulated photographs of naked and hooded prisoners, stacked into pyramids and forced into other humiliating positions.
Graner, 36, is one of seven low-ranking Army Reserve soldiers from the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company accused in the scandal. He maintains that rough treatment of detainees at the prison was condoned and encouraged by intelligence operatives and higher-ranking officers who have escaped punishment.
But prosecutors presented a narrow case this week, concentrating mainly on the events of the one night in November 2003 as described by Mutar and other soldiers. The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, has tightly restricted what evidence defense attorneys can present to support their claims that the abuses were the result of pressure from higher-ranking officers seeking better intelligence information from detainees.
Ruling from the bench late yesterday, Pohl rejected defense efforts to introduce a pointed e-mail written by one intelligence officer in August last year that warned "the gloves are coming off" regarding detainee interrogations. Pohl said there was no proof that the e-mail, from then-Capt. William Ponce Jr., ever reached any of the intelligence soldiers or military police guards working at Abu Ghraib more than three months later.
Pohl also rejected defense requests yesterday to dismiss two counts against Graner, who is charged with conspiracy, maltreatment, assault, indecent acts and dereliction of duty. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 17 1/2 years.
In testimony yesterday, a Syrian man detained at Abu Ghraib in 2003 after he was arrested fighting against U.S-led forces in Iraq called Graner the "primary torturer" at the facility.
The detainee, Ameen al-Sheik, also said Graner appeared to enjoy inflicting painful abuse, according to videotaped testimony - "He was laughing, he was whistling, he was singing," al-Sheik said, speaking partly in English and partly through a translator.
During the lunch recess, Graner responded to reporters: "The last time I saw him, he was threatening to kill me."
Prosecutors allege that Graner beat al-Sheik on the legs with a metal wand in December 2003, when the detainee was recovering from gunshot wounds.
Al-Sheik detailed other mistreatment. He said he faced threats of rape and testified that Graner jumped on his wounded leg, which never healed properly as a result.
He also said he overheard Graner and other guards force a detainee in a nearby cell to eat food out of a toilet and was forced himself to eat pork, drink alcohol and praise Jesus Christ, all violations of his Muslim religion.
Al-Sheik, known by the guards by the nickname "Trigger" after he shot at them with a pistol smuggled into the facility by an Iraqi policeman in late 2003, said other guards and interrogators participated in the abuses, which included instances of guards urinating on prisoners. But he singled out Graner as one of the leaders.
"That Graner guy, he is a man who really hurt his country, hurt his people," Al-Sheik said. "And I think his punishment, God only knows."
He said he was interrogated by intelligence agents he knew only as "Steve" or "Mikey" and said they threatened, alternately, to kill him, keep him in prison for life or to send him to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But an Army investigator, Billy R. Higgason, testified that many of the detainees who appeared in the widely circulated photographs showing naked prisoners stacked in a pyramid and forced to masturbate were common criminals, with no records indicating they ever were even interviewed by military intelligence.
That was the case for Mutar, who is from Baghdad, and who was at the Abu Ghraib facility because he was accused of stealing a car. Mutar said he and six other detainees were brought to the prison's main cellblock the night of Nov. 7, 2003, after they got into a fight over food.
Inside the cellblock, he said through a translator, "No one questioned us. They immediately took us and tortured us."
"If they had killed us all at that point, nobody would have been able to question them," Mutar said, adding that he had never experienced such treatment - even under the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: "Saddam didn't do this to us."