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Prison guard gives harrowing account of beatings in Iraq

By Richard Serrano, in Washington
May 15, 2004
The first US soldier scheduled to be court-martialled in the prison scandal has told military authorities a disturbing tale of abuse, including an episode in which a guard used a nightstick to beat an Iraqi detainee who had been shot in the legs and handcuffed to a bed.

As the prisoner screamed "Mister, mister, please stop," Military Police Corporal Charles Graner struck him twice with the police baton, fellow guard Jeremy Sivits told investigators.

Sivits, whose statements are contained in investigative records obtained by the Los Angeles Times, provided the most detailed account to become public by one of the defendants in the abuse scandal.

He described an atmosphere in which a group of military policemen repeatedly laughed, joked and mocked Iraqi detainees as they stripped them naked, struck and kicked them and forced them to hit each other.

Seven military police have been accused in the scandal that has shaken the Bush Administration's efforts in Iraq, and investigations are continuing. Sivits, who faces lesser charges than his colleagues because of his cooperation with prosecutors, is expected to plead guilty at a court-martial in Baghdad next week.

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Sivits portrayed Graner, a former Pennsylvania prison guard who was accused of misconduct there, as a ringleader of the Abu Ghraib abuses. He said Graner was always "joking, laughing, pissed off a little, acting like he was enjoying it".

Sivits, describing for the first time the moods of the other suspects as prisoners were stripped and abused, said all of this was done without the knowledge of their superiors in the army chain of command.

"Our command would have slammed us," he said. "They believe in doing the right thing. If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay."

Some of the guards have said they acted on orders from above or from military intelligence to soften up inmates for questioning.

Sivits said he first became aware of the abuse, and began photographing much of it, on October 3, 2003, nearly a month earlier than November 7, the date previously thought to have marked the beginning of harsh treatment in the prison.

Sivits's interview makes clear that investigators focused from the start on Graner and Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick as the ringleaders.

The six other defendants have declared their innocence and were not available for comment.

Sivits described Graner striking inmates, and Sergeant Javal Davis, another of the suspects, running across the floor and jumping on them when they were handcuffed and piled on the floor.

"A couple of the detainees kind of made an 'ah' sound as if this hurt them or caused them some type of pain when Davis would land on them," he said.

"After Davis had done this, Davis then stomped on either the fingers or toes of the detainees. When he stomped the detainees, they were in pain, because the detainees would scream loudly."

Sivits said Graner once punched a detainee in the head so hard the man fell unconscious. Another time, Sivits said, Graner punched a detainee in the chest. A medic was called and Frederick thought the man was having a heart attack, Sivits said.

He was asked why he did not report the abuse when it was happening.

"I was asked not to," he said. "And I try to be friends with everyone. I see now where trying to be friends with everyone can cost ya."

Los Angeles Times