- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

WURZBURG, Germany — The U.S. military yesterday announced that Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits will face a public court-martial May 19, becoming the first soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal to come to trial.

The military also announced that 325 prisoners have been released across Iraq in the past week. Authorities here said that number included 27 detainees from Abu Ghraib, who were returned to their homes in Tikrit, and some of whom will be trained for a new security force.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the trial of Spc. Sivits, 24, of Hyndman, Pa., a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, would be held in the Baghdad Convention Center, which houses the coalition press office, and be open to media coverage.

Spc. Sivits was charged with conspiracy to mistreat detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect prisoners and maltreatment of detainees. If convicted, he could face one year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad-conduct discharge.

The speed of the trial’s scheduling and the choice of venue reflect the military’s desire to show resolve in prosecuting those responsible for a scandal that threatens to undermine the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Similar concerns lie behind a desire to more quickly release prisoners who are no longer considered a threat to the coalition. Gen. Kimmitt said 325 detainees had been freed from facilities across Iraq in the past week.

In Wurzburg, officials with the 1st Infantry Division, which is based in Germany, said the 27 detainees freed from Abu Ghraib last week were transported in two trucks accompanied by 1st ID military police in armored vehicles to Tikrit.

There, they were given a “reintegration briefing” before being released to families and friends, said division spokesman Capt. William Coppernoll, who described the reunion as joyous.

“We are going to great lengths to make sure these detainees are back to their homes, families and communities as quickly as possible,” he said.

Officials said the detainees were also taken to a new Training Integration Process (TIP) Academy, where candidates are provided with the requisite skills needed to conduct security patrols alongside members of the U.S. coalition.

In essence, some of the released Iraqis will be prepared for service in the newly formed Iraqi Civil Defense Corp.

Asked what the detainees had done to warrant internment if they were considered fit to serve in security roles, officials said they could not discuss individual cases. But they did say Iraqi security forces are growing in numbers and have been conducting joint patrols with U.S. soldiers.

In Baghdad, officials said they hope the trial of Spc. Sivits will demonstrate to Iraqis that the United States does not tolerate torture and that it will act swiftly to punish those responsible.

Spc. Sivits is one of seven soldiers charged in the scandal brought to light by the release of graphic photos of naked prisoners being mistreated at Abu Ghraib prison, but appears to be a minor figure in the case.

Some of the others will likely face a general court-martial, which can lead to more severe punishments than the “special” court-martial that will try Spc. Sivits. His trial could produce evidence for prosecuting others believed more culpable.

Spc. Sivits is believed to have taken some of the photos that triggered the scandal. His father, Daniel, said last month his son “was told to take a picture, and he did what he was told,” the Associated Press reported.

He said his son trained as a mechanic, but found himself performing military police work for which he was unqualified.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, head of U.S. detention centers in Iraq, said over the weekend there were no plans to close Abu Ghraib. He blamed the abuse of detainees on poor leadership and disregard for the rules.

Gen. Miller, who reviewed procedures at all 14 prison facilities in Iraq, said Army specialists were retraining prison guards. He insisted Iraqi prisoners were now being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and that interrogation teams were following Army guidelines while trying to get “the best intelligence as rapidly as possible.”

Gen. Miller was appointed last month after Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commander of Abu Ghraib, was suspended. He said the United States intends to reduce the number of prisoners to improve conditions, but that “we will continue to conduct interrogation missions at the Abu Ghraib facility.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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