- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

BAGHDAD — A tearful Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits begged for forgiveness yesterday before being sentenced to one year in jail for his part in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

The soldier was found guilty of four counts of abuse, including the maltreatment of subordinates by photographing detainees in the nude, failure to protect detainees from cruelty and specifically maltreating one detainee under his personal control by adding the prisoner to a pile on the prison floor to be assaulted by other soldiers.

“I apologize to the Iraqi people and to the detainees, to the court, and I apologize to the Army, my unit and my family,” the soldier said, his voice breaking through tears.

He said military intelligence officers had encouraged the abuse as an effective preinterrogation technique. He also gave statements against fellow soldiers in exchange for reduced charges.

Col. James Pohl, the military judge, handed down the harshest sentence for the crimes: reducing the soldier to a private E1 grade and sentencing him to one year in jail with the sentence to end with a discharge for bad conduct.

Asked whether the abuse would have happened in the presence of his immediate superiors, Pvt. Sivits said, “Hell no. … Our command would have slammed us.”

Within hours of Pvt. Sivits’ court-martial, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq will be investigated thoroughly up the chain of command — “and that includes me.”

Gen. Sanchez said continuing investigations might result in more criminal charges in connection with abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Pvt. Sivits, 24, was the first of seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., to stand trial.

“I’ve let everyone down, and that’s not me. I should have protected those detainees that night,” he said, giving the most detailed public account to date of the Nov. 8 incident.

“I’m truly sorry for what I did. I love the Army, I love that flag.”

Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin, who attended the court-martial, said the trial was a positive step and one that could help mitigate Iraqi anger at seeing photographs of naked detainees being assaulted and sexually humiliated.

“It’s been a lesson in democracy,” he said, standing in the bare conference room that served as a courtroom for the 31/2-hour trial under heavy military security.

Pvt. Sivits — a reservist from Hyndman, a town of 45 persons in Pennsylvania and the first person in his family to graduate from high school — initially answered questions with a firm “yes sir.”

His voice began to crack when he was asked to describe what he saw in November at Abu Ghraib, an overcrowded jail where Saddam Hussein tortured and killed hundreds of prisoners.

He detailed how he had offered to escort a detainee down to the “hard site” of the prison, where he heard Cpl. Charles A. Graner yelling in Arabic at other detainees.

When he turned the corner, he saw detainees on the floor with sandbags over their heads as Sgt. Javal S. Davis and Pfc. Lynndie R. England stomped on their hands and toes.

Pvt. Sivits described how he put his detainee on the pile, where they were photographed, and he took one photograph before they were made to face the wall, he said.

Then his voice began to crack as he gave the most detailed account to date of the incident.

“Staff Sergeant [Ivan L.] Frederick walked over and picked up a detainee and punched him in the chest” without any provocation, he said, adding the sergeant had commented that he thought he had put the detainee into cardiac arrest.

Although a medic came to check on the prisoner, she left right afterward, he said, and the detainees continued to be stripped.

“After that, Corporal Graner walked over and punched one of the detainees in the head or temple area, and it looked like he passed out.

“I told Corporal Graner, ‘I think you might have knocked that guy out,’ and Corporal Graner said, ‘Damn that hurt,’ “referring to his wrist.

After that, Pvt. Sivits said, all the detainees were stripped naked with sandbags on their heads and put into a pyramid and photographed.

They then were made to stand against the wall, and Pfc. England pointed at their private parts and the infamous pictures of her giving the thumbs-up sign were taken.

“That went on for a few minutes. After that, one detainee was standing up, and another was in front to make it look like he was giving the detainee oral sex.”

But when one of the soldiers “took one of the detainee’s hands and tried to get him to masturbate, honestly I’d had enough and I left.”

Prosecuting counsel John McCabe said nothing could excuse the criminal behavior: “The accused violated army values, the accused violated human values.”

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