WASHINGTON - Army officials named two military dog handlers at Abu Ghraib prison in criminal charges yesterday, alleging that they used their unmuzzled animals to "threaten and harass detainees" and scare them into cooperating with interrogators.
The two sergeants are the first dog handlers to be named as criminal defendants in the abuses at the prison outside Baghdad. Photos of dogs barking and growling at inmates, some of them naked, were among the scenes of detainee torture that were broadcast around the world.
According to Army charge sheets obtained by the Times, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona and Sgt. Michael Smith "intentionally scared detainees to make them urinate on themselves as part of a game" at the prison between November 2003 and January 2004, during the height of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.
In addition, the charges also state that Cardona used his "unmuzzled barking and growling military working dog" to frighten detainees and make them "defecate on themselves."
The charge sheet names two detainees whom Cardona allegedly was involved in abusing, Mohammed Bollendia and Kamel Miza'l Nayil. Bollendia was allegedly attacked by a dog; his injuries were unknown. Nayil was allegedly harassed and threatened with injury.
If convicted on all charges, Cardona could be sentenced to as long as 20 years in prison.
Cardona's charge sheet states that he did "conspire with" Smith to abuse detainees. Other specific charges against Smith were not immediately available.
Harvey Volzer, a Washington lawyer representing Cardona, said his client was being made a scapegoat by a military system that has held no other senior officers accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib:
"We always suspected that politicians and military higher-ups had ordered all these things to occur to get information from the detainees. In the case of the dog handlers, we have irrefutable evidence that they were ordered to use the dogs."
Volzer was referring to statements made by Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at Abu Ghraib, to his superiors last year. Pappas had said that dogs were authorized for use for interrogation purposes at the prison, and both Cardona and Smith have told Army investigators that they were merely following those orders.
Last month Pappas was reprimanded, fined $8,000 and cited for two counts of dereliction of duty, effectively ending his 24-year military career, but he was not criminally prosecuted.
Army officials declined yesterday to discuss why the charges against the dog handlers were being filed now, a year after eight soldiers, including several military police officers, were accused of abusing and sexually humiliating detainees. Seven have received sentences ranging from no jail time to 10 years; the eighth case is pending.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.