US soldier gets 10 years for Iraq prisoner abuse

 

A US military jury sentenced Specialst Charles Graner to 10 years in prison for his leading role in the 2003 Abu Ghraib torture of Iraqi prisoners, five years less than the maximum sentence possible.

The sentencing at a central Texas military base came a day after a jury found Graner guilty on 10 counts related to the abuses, many of which were documented in photographs.

Graner showed no reaction when the sentence was read and appeared calm before he was taken off to prison. Asked if he regretted abusing prisoners, Graner paused, then said: "Maybe you missed that there's a war on. Bad things happen in war.

"Apparently I followed an illegal order."

In his first public remarks on the scandal earlier in the day, Graner told the 10 jurors he had acted wrongly, but said he complained repeatedly to superiors and was told to continue rough treatment. In 2 1/2 hours of testimony at the sentencing hearing, Graner smiled from time to time and spoke confidently as he detailed his role in the scandal that delivered a powerful blow to the US image abroad.

"I didn't enjoy anything I did there. A lot of it was wrong, a lot of it was criminal," said Graner, 36, the first soldier to go on trial in the abuse case. The former Pennsylvania prison guard was convicted on charges including conspiracy, assault and indecent acts.

"The enemy needs rallying points," prosecutor Maj. Michael Holley said in arguing for the maximum 15-year penalty. "The accused has provided so much in that regard."

Graner received a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. Graner, seen grinning in photos of abuses such as stacking a pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees, said gallows humor was the only way to deal with the harsh environment at Abu Ghraib, once Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison.

"There was a lot of things that we did that were so screwed up, if we didn't look at them as funny then there was no way to deal with it," he said. "When I knew someone would take a picture, I'd be smiling; that's the only explanation I have."

Graner named several higher-ranking officials to whom he complained about the conditions or treatment forced upon the prisoners, such as sleep deprivation and forced eating cycles. They told him to "follow your order, charge on."

"Like all good soldiers, or bad little soldiers, it was 'right on sir.' We went back."

Four others have been convicted after reaching plea bargains in the case. During the court-martial, prosecutors provided evidence, including graphic videos and photos, that Graner forced seven Iraqi prisoners to stack themselves into a naked human pyramid and later posed for photos before them.