Prosecutions and convictions

A look at accountability to date for abuses at Abu Ghraib and in the broader "war on terror."


Accountability for Abu Ghraib

Nine U.S. Army soldiers have been court-martialed and convicted of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib prison: seven military police, and two soldiers from military intelligence. All were enlisted soldiers. Within the Army’s judicial system, accountability up the chain of command has stopped at the rank of staff sergeant — to date, no commanding officers have been prosecuted.

The doctrine of command responsibility, according to Paragraph 501 of Army Field Manual 27-10, holds that a commander is legally responsible not only for orders handed down but “if he has actual knowledge, or should have knowledge … that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violators thereof.”

While no officers have been court-martialed, the Army says it has taken nonjudicial action against some officers for crimes at Abu Ghraib. Beyond the nine convictions detailed below, Army public affairs officer Maj. Wayne Marotto told Salon by e-mail that three soldiers and one officer received nonjudicial punishments, and four soldiers and eight officers received official reprimands. In addition, “a number of officers were suspended or relieved of their duties,” according to Marotto. He declined to provide further details about these personnel, citing the Privacy Act of 1974, which prohibits the Army from “publicly releasing certain items of information” about individuals regarding nonjudicial actions taken against them.

There are two publicly known cases of military leaders from Abu Ghraib receiving nonjudicial punishment. According to a May 5, 2005, Army press release, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, was relieved of command, was demoted to colonel and received a letter of reprimand. And on May 13, 2005, the Department of Defense announced that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, was relieved of command, received a letter of reprimand and was fined $8,000. (One day earlier, the Washington Post reported the reprimand of Pappas, citing an unnamed Army official.)

Details of the following nine Abu Ghraib convictions were compiled from media reports and military court records.

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Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., 372nd M.P. Co.

Convicted by a general court-martial in January 2005 on five counts of assault, maltreatment and conspiracy.

The charges against Graner stemmed from a number of incidents at Abu Ghraib in November 2003. Among the charges were striking a detainee with a metal baton, stomping on detainees’ hands and bare feet, and hitting a detainee “with a means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” He was also charged with photographing detainees he had ordered to strip and masturbate, as well as a pair of detainees whom he had ordered to simulate fellatio.

Graner received a 10-year prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge from the Army, and was reduced in rank to private.

Pfc. Lynndie England, 372nd M.P. Co.

Convicted by a general court-martial in September 2005 on one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act.

England was photographed holding a leash tied to a detainee’s neck, smiling while pointing at hooded and naked detainees, and giving a thumbs-up sign next to a group of naked detainees bound and stacked in a pyramid.

England was sentenced to three years in prison and received a dishonorable discharge.

Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick II, 372nd M.P. Co.

Pleaded guilty before a general court-martial in October 2004 to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act.

The charges against Frederick included arranging naked detainees in a human pyramid, ordering detainees to strip and masturbate, forcing two detainees into a position simulating fellatio and posing for a photograph while sitting on top of a bound detainee. He was also charged with participating in an incident in which a hooded detainee was placed on a box with wires attached to his hands and told that if he fell off, he would be electrocuted.

Frederick was sentenced to eight years in prison and the forfeiture of pay. He also received a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.

Spc. Jeremy Sivits, 372nd M.P. Co.

Pleaded guilty before a special court-martial in May 2004 to four counts of taking photographs of detainee abuse in November 2003.

The charges against Sivits included escorting detainees to be abused by other soldiers and taking photographs of detainees forced into a human pyramid.

Sivits was sentenced to one year in military prison, was educed in rank and received a bad-conduct discharge from the military.

Spc. Sabrina Harman, 372nd M.P. Co.

Convicted by a general court-martial in May 2005 of conspiracy, maltreating detainees and dereliction of duty.

The charges against Harman included posing in a photograph giving a thumbs-up next to a dead detainee, photographing and videotaping detainees while they were forced to masturbate, writing “rapeist” (sic) on a detainee’s leg, and participating in an incident in which a hooded detainee was placed on a box with wires attached to his hands and told that if he fell off, he would be electrocuted.

She was sentenced to six months in prison and received a bad-conduct discharge.

Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 372nd M.P. Co.

Pleaded guilty before a general court-martial in February 2005 to assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators.

The charges against Davis included arranging detainees on the floor to be abused by other soldiers, stomping on detainees’ hands and bare feet, striking at least one detainee and jumping on a pile of detainees.

Davis was reduced in rank, was sentenced to six months in prison and received a bad-conduct discharge.

Spc. Megan Ambuhl, 372nd M.P. Co.

Pleaded guilty before a summary court-martial in September 2004 to failing to prevent or report maltreatment of prisoners.

Ambuhl received a reduction in rank to private and the loss of half a month’s pay.

Spc. Armin J. Cruz Jr., 325th M.I. Battalion

Pleaded guilty before a special court-martial in September 2004 to conspiracy and mistreating prisoners.

Cruz confessed to forcing detainees to strip and crawl on their hands and knees, to pouring cold water on detainees and to helping position detainees for a photograph so that they appeared to be sodomizing one another.

Cruz was sentenced to eight months in prison, was reduced in rank to private and received a bad-conduct discharge.

Spc. Roman Krol, 325th M.I. Battalion

Pleaded guilty before a general court-martial in February 2005 to two counts of abusing detainees and one charge of conspiracy abuse.

Krol admitted to pouring water on naked detainees, forcing them to crawl around on the floor and throwing a foam football at them while they were handcuffed.

Kroll was sentenced to 10 months in prison, received a bad-conduct discharge and was reduced in rank to private.

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Accountability for abuses in the broader “war on terror”

Many more cases of prisoner abuse committed by U.S. military and intelligence personnel across Iraq and beyond have been reported since the Bush administration’s “war on terror” began in late 2001.

In an e-mail to Salon, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that as of March 3, 85 soldiers have been court-martialed for abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, there have been no courts-martial for abuses committed at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Army declined to provide any details about convictions resulting from the courts-martial for prisoner abuse.

The group Human Rights Watch, which is conducting extensive research on military prosecutions for abuse and torture, has been able to document only about 70 courts-martial to date. Of those cases, fewer than half resulted in convictions that included prison time, according to Human Rights Watch. And of the approximately 30 convictions with prison time, only a small handful resulted in a prison sentence of more than a year.

U.S. investigators have determined that the CIA and civilian contractors also bear some responsibility for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, including the murder of at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib and the deaths of three others in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet despite the fact that Pentagon and CIA investigators have referred 20 cases to the Department of Justice, only one civilian — a CIA contractor — has been prosecuted. Not a single military contractor or CIA officer has been charged.

— Mark Follman and Tracy Clark-Flory

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