FORT HOOD, Texas -- Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., whose cocksure image was seared into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, was convicted of abusing Iraqi detainees yesterday by a military jury that rejected claims that the Army Reserve soldier was simply following orders of senior interrogators.
Graner, 36, shown grinning and flashing a jaunty thumbs-up in many of the graphic photos of naked, hooded detainees that touched off an international outcry last year, was found guilty on each of the five charges against him, including maltreatment and assault.
As an Army colonel delivered the verdict in his case, a sober Graner stood sharply at attention and showed no emotion. Jurors then heard evidence in the sentencing phase of the case, including emotional testimony from his parents and from a former detainee who said the Abu Ghraib abuses darkened his view of America.
"When they came in and took Saddam [Hussein] out of power, it appeared to me that they were good," said Hussein Mutar, a suspected car thief who was piled into the pyramid of naked detainees shown in one of the infamous photos. "But this incident changed the entire picture of what Americans look like."
The sentencing hearing will resume this morning, with Graner expected to testify.
"Well, I'm going to start off by saying, 'I swear to God,' and then you're going to hear a story," Graner said last night as he left the courthouse with his lawyer, who declined to comment. Graner could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Three others from the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company who pleaded guilty to related charges received sentences from probation to eight years in prison.
Graner and other accused soldiers had insisted that the abuses were directed by military and civilian interrogators who wanted detainees "softened up" for questioning. Pentagon reports and other government records portrayed the prison as a chaotic, dysfunctional facility and documented numerous incidents of violent interrogations.
Graner was the first of the accused soldiers to contest the charges against him.
But at his weeklong court-martial, defense lawyers struggled to build a defense of "following orders" against the government's tightly focused case, which concentrated mainly on the events of a single night in November 2003 involving inmates who were common Iraqi criminals with no intelligence value for U.S. agents.
A military prosecutor, Capt. Chris Graveline, said in closing arguments yesterday that the most visible abuses at Abu Ghraib were Graner's "handiwork" and that a guilty verdict against him "will speak volumes to our Army, it will speak volumes to our country, it will speak volumes to the world."
Acting under orders
Defense lawyers argued that the widely circulated photographs showing detainees forced into humiliating positions might have repelled casual observers, but they said Graner was acting under orders from senior interrogators and did nothing wrong.
"It was standard. It was what everybody was doing. It was what they were ordered to do," said Guy Womack, a civilian attorney from Houston. "Sometimes to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs. It may be [that] to interrogate someone at Tier One-Alpha at Abu Ghraib, you had to be rough."
Womack portrayed Graner as a smart, hard-working soldier who was taking the fall for senior officers and the U.S. government, which he said knew about the routine abuses of detainees as the military came under increasing pressure in late 2003 to develop intelligence to fight the rising Iraqi insurgency or to capture Saddam Hussein, whose whereabouts then were still unknown.
"Wouldn't it be logical to have your interrogators use pressure to get information to try to find him?" Womack said in closing arguments.
Prosecutors retorted with a photo that Graner boasted he took at the prison -- one of a bare-breasted, 19-year-old Iraqi woman detained on prostitution charges. According to testimony, Graner had complained he was rebuffed when he tried to also photograph her pubic area.
"Was that the military intelligence?" Graveline said dryly. "Was she the one who gave up Saddam Hussein?"
Photos and video
Jurors were given copies of the famous photographs to review as well as soundless, grainy video clips from inside the prison. Prosecutors also introduced about 10 e-mails that Graner sent from Iraq in November 2003 to friends and relatives in the United States.
The e-mails, which included photo attachments of injured detainees, show in Graner's own words that he viewed the harsh detainee treatment as sport, Graveline told jurors yesterday morning as he read from some of the messages.
"A good upper body workout, but hard on the hands," Graner said in one.
Last night, his parents pleaded for mercy for their son.
"He's kind, he's gentle, he'd do anything for anybody, and he's not the monster that he's being made out to be," his mother, Irma Graner, said on the witness stand.
In tears as he testified, Charles A. Graner Sr. told jurors: "My son, when he got home, we were going to go fishing and he was going to tell me about the war."
Graner did not testify in his own defense, but several military police guards said intelligence soldiers regularly directed them to keep detainees naked in their cells, restrict their food, keep them awake and force them to take cold showers or perform strenuous exercises.
None of the witnesses, though, said they were told to stack naked prisoners in pyramids or force them to masturbate and simulate sex acts.
"There is no justification -- it is for sports, it is for laughs," Graveline, the military prosecutor, said. "It's all about their own sexual, depraved humor."
A Syrian detainee at Abu Ghraib who testified earlier for the government, Ameen al-Sheik, said Graner "represents the people who are sick-minded."
Graner faced 10 criminal counts, under five charges -- conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and indecent acts. Jurors convicted him on every count, although on one count of the assault charge, the panel found Graner guilty of a reduced charge of battery.
The 10-man jury included four Army officers and six senior enlisted officers. Under military law, at least seven members of the panel had to find Graner guilty to convict him on each charge.
Jurors deliberated for about five hours before reaching the verdict. They emerged only once during that period, asking to re-hear part of the testimony from former Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, the most senior soldier from the 372nd to face charges in the scandal.
Frederick had testified that intelligence operatives at Abu Ghraib grew increasingly more aggressive in late 2003, under pressure for better intelligence to counter the Iraqi insurgency.
He said that he once walked out of an interrogation he thought was becoming too aggressive. Another time, he said, a military intelligence officer with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command turned over a prisoner with the instruction: "I don't give a [expletive] what you do with him, just don't kill him."
As the tactics grew harsher, interrogators praised the guards, Frederick testified: "They would tell us we were doing a good job, keep up the good work."
In closing arguments yesterday, Womack said the real crime of Abu Ghraib was that someone "leaked" the photos from inside the prison.
After the photos aired on the CBS program 60 Minutes last spring, Womack said, the government was forced to crack down on the soldiers to repair what fast became an international nightmare for the White House and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Graner played a visible role from the start. In one picture, he is standing behind a pyramid of naked and hooded detainees, one arm wrapped around a fellow soldier, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, his wartime girlfriend who months later became his co-defendant and the mother of his infant son.
Another photo shows Graner cradling the head of a hooded detainee in one arm, his other arm cocked back as if he is about to deliver a powerful punch. In another, he is grinning next to the bruised, swollen face of a dead Iraqi man who died in the prison during a CIA interrogation and then was wrapped in plastic and packed in ice.
Government lawyers alleged that Graner had directed one of the most disturbing photos -- showing England holding a leather leash tied around the neck of a naked detainee lying on the cellblock floor.
Womack said the tether was a legitimate means to remove an unruly prisoner from a cell, and he noted to jurors that England appeared to be holding the leash loosely, as someone might do to control a small dog.
Graveline, the prosecutor, called the defense explanation unacceptable: "Picture a young, 18-year-old serviceman at the end of that leash. If this was happening to one of our servicemen, there would be no question it was abuse."