Lack of training, stress are blamed in abuse of Iraqis
By By Tom Bowman
|Sun National Staff|
Apr 30, 2004 | 3:00 AM
WASHINGTON - One of the Maryland soldiers facing a court-martial for allegedly abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners was identified yesterday by Army officials as Sgt. Javal S. Davis, a Morgan State graduate whose wife said he was in "a very stressful" situation.
"We're not over there," said his wife, Zeenithia Davis, who is in the Navy in Mississippi. "We really don't know how those prisoners are behaving. There's a line between heinous war crimes and maintaining discipline."
Javal Davis, 26, is one of six Army reservists attached to a Western Maryland unit who is subject to criminal prosecution in the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Army officials said yesterday. In addition, eight other Maryland soldiers face less severe administrative charges.
Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, 37, of Virginia, and Davis have been recommended for courts-martial after an Article 32 investigation, the military equivalent of a grand jury inquiry, Army officials said. The final decision on whether courts-martial should be convened rests with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American ground commander in Iraq, said Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a military spokesman in Baghdad.
In all, 14 of 17 people under investigation are from the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cresaptown near Cumberland. All 17 were temporarily suspended from their posts after the investigation at Abu Ghraib prison, Morgenthaler said.
The unit's conduct was recorded in graphic photographs aired on CBS's 60 Minutes II on Wednesday. The pictures showed naked prisoners huddled together and simulating sex acts while soldiers, including two women, grinned and flashed the thumbs-up sign. In another case, a hooded prisoner attached to wires stands on a box. Army officials said he had been warned he would be electrocuted if he stepped off.
"The hearing officer recommended that all charges proceed to general court-martial," Morgenthaler said. Sanchez received the recommendation on April 20 and will make the final decision on whether the courts-martial go forward, she said.
Frederick told CBS in a phone interview from Baghdad he would plead innocent, explaining that he and the other soldiers were not properly trained and worked under crowded conditions with inadequate staff. Davis could not be reached for comment.
The remaining four soldiers from the Maryland unit facing courts-martial will have their hearings completed by the middle of next month, Morgenthaler said. If tried by courts-martial and found guilty, the soldiers could be sentenced to prison, she said.
Besides Davis and Frederick, no other names of the accused have been released by the military.
The charges against Davis and Frederick include aggravated assault, Morgenthaler said. Other criminal charges against all six soldiers could include one or more of the following: indecent acts, nonphysical abuse stemming from photos taken of naked Iraqi prisoners, battery, dereliction of duty and conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, she said.
There is also one charge of desecrating a corpse, which involved taking pictures of an Iraqi detainee who had died, she said. She declined to identify the suspect or suspects.
Meanwhile, eight other Army Reservists from the 372nd are facing administrative punishment as a result of the investigation, she said. Those punishments could range from letters of reprimand to loss of promotion and loss of command, Morgenthaler said, although no final decisions have been made.
The three remaining people who were temporarily suspended from the prison include Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commands the 800th Military Police Brigade from Uniondale, N.Y., to which the 372nd was attached in Iraq, and a civilian contractor, who was either an interrogator at the prison or a translator, Morgenthaler said. She provided no information on the third person.
Maj. Greg Yesko, a spokesman for the 99th Regional Readiness Command in Pittsburgh, which oversees the Maryland unit when not deployed overseas, said he had no additional information on the charges or investigation, explaining it was being handled by the U.S. military in Iraq.
"We haven't been notified that any charges have been filed against those individuals," he said.
In its report, CBS said the Army found a lack of leadership at the prison and learned that the soldiers at the facility, most of whom were Army reservists, were not trained on rules for handling prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, the internationally accepted rules on the conduct of war and treatment of prisoners.
Morgenthaler said that the investigation ordered by Sanchez confirmed that the soldiers did not receive such training and now all military police dealing with detainees receive comprehensive training under the Geneva Convention guidelines.
The human rights group Amnesty International and former detainees have complained of poor treatment and squalid living conditions inside coalition-run detention centers in Iraq, which currently hold 8,000 people either arrested for criminal activities or attacks on coalition forces in Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters at a news briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday that the investigation was launched after a U.S. soldier reported the abuse and turned over evidence that included photographs.
"That soldier said, 'There are some things going on here that I can't live with,'" Kimmitt said.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Abu Ghraib prison was a center for torture and executions against real and perceived enemies of the regime, with Hussein's guards setting attack dogs against prisoners or using electric shock devices.
Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel, yesterday referred to the "shocking U.S. television images of U.S. soldiers stacking prisoners on top of each other. ... Taken by U.S. troops, many of the pictures show American troops watching in apparent approval."
Sun staff writer Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.