Key witnesses for Graner undercut defense strategy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT HOOD, Texas - Spc. Charles A. Graner's claim that he was dutifully following orders when he subjected detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to lurid, sadistic abuses was sharply undercut yesterday by a string of witnesses called to testify by his own lawyers.

An Iraqi detainee said Graner once made him eat food out of a toilet and, with another soldier, beat him with a chair until it broke. An officer from his unit said Graner often disobeyed orders. And a retired interrogator said that when he worked at Abu Ghraib in late 2003, he questioned why military police guards were leading detainees around hooded and handcuffed.

"They assumed all Iraqis were terrorists and needed discipline," Roger Brokaw, the former intelligence soldier, said. "It had nothing to do with the interrogation process."

As they presented new, vivid testimony of abuses by Graner at Abu Ghraib, though, some of the witnesses also supported his contention that higher-ranking intelligence officers directed the abuses at the prison that touched off an international outcry last year.

The detainee who testified by videotape, Walid Mohanded Juma, said that Graner appeared in some cases to be working with a female interrogator and another interrogator known as "Steve." In one instance, he said, Graner beat him and threw pepper in his face shortly before the female intelligence agent arrived to question him and to make other threats.

"She said that if you don't cooperate, then we will bring in the dogs to you, and you will see things you have not seen before," Juma said through a translator.

One military police soldier who was not charged in the scandal, Spc. Chee Yee Liang, said the guards regularly received directions from military intelligence to give detainees "special treatment" to help "soften them up" for interrogations. She said she thought that meant detainees should be subjected to cold showers or loud music. If they cooperated, they might receive better meals.

Liang said she never was directed to kick or hit a prisoner, or to force them into sexually humiliating poses. As with several other soldier witnesses, Liang said it was well-known that soldiers were not supposed to take photographs inside the prison.

"You try enough cases, you know they don't all go the way you want them to," lead defense attorney Guy Womack said as he left court last night. "We scored some of the points we were hoping to make, and we want to end on a strong note that will come tomorrow."

Graner, 36, could testify in his defense today.

Problems for his defense team yesterday started even before jurors filed in for the third day of his court-martial, the first to contest abuse charges brought in the far-reaching scandal.

A military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, rejected defense efforts to call a self-styled corrections trainer who testified outside the presence of the jury that stacking naked prisoners into a pyramid - as shown in one infamous scene from the abuse scandal - was "very creative," if not authorized by any law enforcement training manuals.

"In my professional opinion, Mr. Graner used good foresight to keep these people under control," said Thomas J. Archambault of Cape Coral, Fla.

The first defense witness called, a senior officer from Graner's Army Reserve unit, described Graner as a problem soldier who often ignored orders - growing out his regulation buzz cut, sewing unauthorized pockets on his uniform and ignoring instructions to stop seeing his wartime girlfriend, fellow soldier Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who now also faces charges in the scandal.

"He just didn't like to follow orders?" prosecutor Maj. Michael Holley said in questioning Master Sgt. Brian Lipinski, who was the top non-commissioned officer with the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company while it was assigned to Abu Ghraib.

"That's true, sir," Lipinski answered.

"He wants to do his own thing?" Holley asked.

"Yes, sir," Lipinski said.

Lipinski also said Graner lied about a detainee abuse incident in early November 2003, when officers discovered a blood smear on a prison wall and a detainee with injuries on his face and neck. Graner first told his superiors that the detainee had tripped and fallen, according to Lipinski's testimony. But Graner later acknowledged that he had slammed the detainee into a wall after the prisoner allegedly became combative.

Graner's reprimand for the event - a counseling statement from Nov. 16, 2003 - helped his defense strategy by linking him to military intelligence work. The statement said that he had been doing good work at the prison, dealing with high-value intelligence detainees. It pointed out that he had been praised by a senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, Lt. Col. Steven Jordan.

A member of the 372nd who has pleaded guilty in the scandal, Pvt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, took the witness stand for a second time yesterday to testify that the techniques used by intelligence officers changed, becoming steadily "more aggressive" in late 2003. He said the most aggressive techniques were used by three intelligence agents at the prison.

Frederick said he once refused to help an interrogator, identified as Dan Johnson, he thought was being too forceful during a detainee interview, and an Iraqi security guard had to complete the session.

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