- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

FORT MEADE, Md. — A military jury yesterday convicted an Army dog handler of abusing an Abu Ghraib detainee in a trial that produced evidence of high-level pressure and ground-level confusion regarding interrogations at the prison in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos A. Cardona is the 11th soldier convicted of crimes stemming from the abuse of detainees at the prison in late 2003 and early 2004.

Sgt. Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, Calif., was convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault for unlawfully threatening a detainee with his dog.

But the panel of four officers and three enlisted soldiers acquitted Sgt. Cardona of some of the most serious charges he faced, including unlawfully having his dog bite a detainee and conspiring with another dog handler to frighten detainees into soiling themselves.

He faces maximum imprisonment of 31/2 years.

Sgt. Cardona, a 121/2-year veteran, stood at attention in his green dress uniform as the verdict was read in court.

He was convicted of allowing his dog to bark within inches of the face of detainee Kamel Miza’l Nayil in December 2003.

Prosecutors had portrayed Sgt. Cardona as part of a small group of corrupt soldiers who enjoyed tormenting prisoners — even competing with another dog handler to frighten detainees into soiling themselves.

“This is all for their amusement,” Maj. Christopher Graveline said Tuesday in his closing argument.

Sgt. Cardona’s civilian defense attorney, Harvey J. Volzer, said the military policeman had done what his training and senior officers demanded: Protect fellow soldiers and scare detainees.

Sgt. Cardona released his dog to bite detainee Mohammed Bollendia after Mr. Bollendia ran at and struck another military policeman, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., witnesses for both sides testified.

The prosecution said the MPs provoked the attack and could easily have restrained Mr. Bollendia.

Mr. Volzer said Sgt. Cardona’s dog, Duco, barked at prisoners because he was supposed to.

None of the offenses was said to have occurred during interrogations.

However, Sgt. Cardona’s defense team focused on interrogation policies — in particular, the changes in rules and command that followed Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller’s visit to Abu Ghraib in late August and early September 2003, when Gen. Miller was commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gen. Miller wrote in a subsequent report that the military police who guarded detainees at Abu Ghraib should become “actively engaged in setting the conditions” for interrogations.

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