Monday, August 2, 2004

PETERSBURG, Va. — Nearly 1 years after leaving home, the 372nd Military Police Company returned yesterday from Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that left seven members of the unit accused of abusing prisoners.

More than 100 of the Army reservists based in Cresaptown, Md., were reunited with their families at the Fort Lee Army base in Petersburg. The unit was called up in February 2003 and mobilized at Fort Lee three months later.

None of the seven charged with abusing detainees returned home with their unit. One reservist, Pfc. Lynndie England, is awaiting trial at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, and the others are still in Iraq.

One of the seven soldiers, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison.

At the request of the unit, the other members of the 372nd Military Police Company had a private welcoming ceremony with family members, said Fort Lee spokeswoman Sandra Ellis. The celebration also included several speakers, among them Maj. Gen. Karol A. Kennedy, commander of the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Readiness Command.

Miss Ellis said the unit will spend five to seven days at Fort Lee before its members return home. The “decompression” period will allow the soldiers to adjust to civilian life and “talk about all the experiences” they have gone through, she said.

“All units are unique, and each has experienced something different,” said Miss Ellis.

The decompression will also include medical and dental screening and psychological exams, as well as “family-reunion training,” Fort Lee spokesman Travis Edwards said.

“That’s trying to get the family used to dealing with each other again,” he said.

The unit was deployed to Kuwait on May 15, 2003, and began service by training new Iraqi police officers and helping set up a local police academy, Army officials said. The unit was transferred to Abu Ghraib prison in October 2003, with some working in the detention center and others helping rebuild police stations, courts and schools.

The unit’s mobilization was extended in April 2004, and in May, the reservists began escorting civilian convoys and carrying supplies for coalition forces.

The prisoner-abuse scandal surfaced this spring when photographs were published showing beatings and humiliations of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad.

In an investigative hearing set to start today at Fort Bragg, Pfc. England’s attorneys will have a chance to make the case that the 21-year-old Army reservist was following orders when she was photographed mocking naked prisoners in Iraq.

The reservist from Fort Ashby, W.Va., became a central figure in the scandal when she turned up in numerous photographs, smiling and giving the thumbs-up to naked, hooded Iraqi detainees. In one shot, she is shown holding a prisoner on a dog’s leash.

Pfc. England is charged with 13 counts of abusing detainees and six counts stemming from possession of sexually explicit photos, which the Army has said do not depict Iraqis. The maximum sentence is 38 years in prison.

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