- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003


The military has charged four U.S. soldiers with abusing prisoners of war in Iraq.

The soldiers and their families deny the accusations.

The four military policemen from a Pennsylvania-based Army Reserve unit are accused of punching, kicking and breaking bones of prisoners at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S.-run POW camp in Iraq.

The soldiers, charged this month, are the first U.S. troops known to face charges of abusing prisoners during the Iraq conflict.

The military’s investigation continues, said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command. Cmdr. Balice confirmed four soldiers had been charged as part of that investigation but said he could not release their names.

The soldiers say their actions were in self-defense when Iraqi prisoners attacked them.

“A few of my MPs were assaulted by the enemy prisoners, and we had to use force to regain control, all justifiable,” one of the accused, Staff Sgt. Scott McKenzie, e-mailed to relatives five days after the May 12 incident.

The four are not jailed but have been given restricted duties, separated from each other and assigned to a base in Kuwait, away from the rest of their unit. Military authorities told the four this month to quit talking about the case, relatives said.

Family members say they are worried about the stress on the four soldiers.

“If one of them commits suicide, if one of them gets killed, somebody has to answer for that,” said Carol Graff, mother of accused Master Sgt. Lisa Girman.

The soldiers are awaiting an Article 32 hearing, a military proceeding where prosecutors lay out evidence of a crime and a commander decides whether to convene a court-martial. At least three other soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion also are being investigated, relatives said. The unit is based in Ashley, Pa., a suburb of Wilkes-Barre.

“I can’t believe they’re treating the soldiers this way,” said Linda Edmondson, mother of accused Sgt. Shawna Edmondson. “All they did was go help transport prisoners, and they are charged with this.”

Pentagon officials say American soldiers scrupulously follow international guidelines for humane treatment of detainees.

Some released Iraqi prisoners have complained of rough treatment such as being kept in tightly bound plastic handcuffs and blasted with loud music and strobe lights. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said last month it has gathered evidence indicating the United States violated international law by subjecting Iraqi prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading” conditions.

U.S. military authorities are investigating the death last month of an Iraqi prisoner at a camp run by U.S. Marines in south-central Iraq near Nasiriyah. British authorities are investigating the deaths of two prisoners under their control and separate accusations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners by British troops.

The four accused members of the U.S. Army’s 320th Military Police Battalion face up to five charges each of assault and mistreating prisoners. Sgt. McKenzie, 37, and Sgt. Girman, 35, also face charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Sgt. Edmondson, 24, is charged only with assault, mistreatment and dereliction of duty. Spc. Tim Canjar, 21, also is charged with making false statements.

The most serious charges, making false statements and obstruction of justice, each carry a possible prison term of up to five years. Dereliction of duty and mistreating prisoners carry penalties of up to a year in prison, and assault carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

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