- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Nine Arab newspaper or broadcast journalists are among 34 news organizations that have been awarded seats for the court-martial today of Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, the first soldier to stand trial in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.

But U.S. hopes that a fair and open trial will ease concerns were set back when three Iraqi journalists for Reuters news agency claimed to have been abused and humiliated in American custody in January.

Spc. Sivits faces one year in prison, a fine, reduction in pay and a bad-conduct discharge at his hearing today. He has cooperated with authorities and is expected to testify against other soldiers, who face more serious charges.

Staff Sgt. Ivan Fredericks, Sgt. Javal Davis, and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. will be arraigned at the same venue before Spc. Sivits goes on trial.

The U.S. military hopes the presence in the courtroom of such prominent Arab media as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera television networks will demonstrate U.S. resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.

However, the military has barred the broadcast of the hearings on radio or television, and is prohibiting all recording devices and mobile phones from the courtroom.

In new charges yesterday, Reuters quoted three Iraqi employees as saying U.S. forces had beaten them and subjected them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation during their detention in January in a military camp near Fallujah.

The three Reuters employees had told their employers of the ordeal after their release, but said yesterday they decided to make it public only after the U.S. military exonerated their captors and in light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Some supporters of the U.S.-led war in Iraq have criticized the British news agency for its coverage, particularly for its reluctance to use the word “terrorist” to describe attackers.

Two of the three employees said they were forced to perform obscene acts and to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture.

All three said they were forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they did not want to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.

They also said the soldiers told them they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them and forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods.

The U.S. military, in a report issued before the Abu Ghraib abuse became public, said there was no evidence the Reuters staffers had been tortured or abused.

A summary of the investigation by the 82nd Airborne Division, dated Jan. 28, said the detainees, who were held for three days, “were purposefully and carefully put under stress, to include sleep deprivation, in order to facilitate interrogation; they were not tortured.”

Reuters said its three employees were never interviewed during the U.S. military investigation.

Meanwhile, in Savannah, Ga., a U.S. soldier facing court-martial on desertion charges said he saw Iraqi prisoners treated “with great cruelty” when he was put in charge of processing detainees a year ago at al-Assad, an Iraqi air base occupied by U.S. forces.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, 28, of Miami Beach, Fla., left his Florida National Guard unit in Iraq in October on a two-week furlough to the United States. He was gone for five months before he turned himself in to the Army in March.

He said his war experience — including the deaths of civilians and prisoner abuses — made him decide to seek conscientious-objector status.

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