- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — A military judge ruled yesterday that statements by President Bush and top military leaders about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison do not appear specific enough to taint the jury pool for next month’s trial of a reputed ringleader in the case.

But Col. James Pohl, the judge, said he might reconsider his ruling if it becomes clear that prospective jurors might have been influenced to the degree that Spc. Charles Graner may not receive a fair trial.

Defense attorney Guy Womack tried to persuade Col. Pohl that Mr. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and high-ranking military officials proclaimed Spc. Graner guilty of abuses at Abu Ghraib and made it impossible to find an impartial jury.

At various times and venues last spring, the president called the suspected incidents “abhorrent” acts for which those found guilty would be punished, while Mr. Rumsfeld referred to “terrible activities” at Abu Ghraib.

“They all heard [the statements] and it was their chain of command saying it,” Mr. Womack said. “It would be hard for the [jurors] to completely put that out of their minds.”

But Mr. Womack acknowledged that the word “guilty” was never used in any of the statements in question, nor was Spc. Graner ever mentioned by name by the high-ranking officials.

The Abu Ghraib scandal came to light last spring with the discovery of digital photographs depicting physical abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees.

In one of those photos, Spc. Graner was shown giving a thumbs-up sign behind a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners. In another, he is seen cocking his fist as if to punch a hooded detainee.

He has been accused of jumping on prisoners, stomping on their hands and feet and punching one man in the head hard enough to knock him out.

Mr. Womack says Spc. Graner was ordered by higher-ranking soldiers and other government agents to be rough with detainees to soften them up for interrogators.

Spc. Graner, an Army reservist from Uniontown, Pa., is scheduled for trial at Fort Hood beginning Jan. 7. He sat quietly beside Mr. Womack during the 2-hour hearing.

Mr. Womack also raised the prospect that the judge might have been tilted against Spc. Graner, which prompted Col. Pohl to subject himself to a round of unusual questions normally reserved for would-be jurors.

“Given all the knowledge you have about this case, do you feel that you could be influenced one way or another?” Mr. Womack asked.

“I do what I think is right,” Col. Pohl shot back. “I don’t work for anybody when it comes to the trial.”

Col. Pohl also rejected a defense request that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former U.S. land forces commander in Iraq, be compelled to testify at Spc. Graner’s trial.

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