The Associated Press
A key suspect in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison voiced fear he was being made a scapegoat when he was asked to turn over a laptop computer and other evidence suspected of containing photos of the maltreatment, an investigator told a U.S. military court Monday.
The investigator, Manora Iem, testified that Spc. Charles Graner consented to the search during a Jan. 14 interview at the prison, but lawyers for Graner questioned the agent's authorization because he said he only got approval from higher-ups after taking the computer and several CDs.
Graner is among four soldiers charged with abuse at Abu Ghraib who is facing hearings this week at a heavily secured U.S. military base in Mannheim. Spc. Megan Ambuhl's case was to be heard later Monday, while Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Spc. Javal Davis had hearings set for Tuesday.
Graner, clad in desert fatigues, sat in the courtroom leaning with his left arm on the armrest. His two lawyers, one civilian and one military, sat next to him. The opening testimony came as a military judge took up a defense motion to suppress any evidence related to the computer's seizure.
Iem, a U.S. Army criminal investigator, said Graner appeared to understand his rights after he was woken up in the middle of the night on Jan. 14, told he was a suspect in the investigation, read his rights and asked to sign a search consent form.
"He was alert, he was very cooperative," but feared he was being made a "scapegoat," Iem said.
When Graner took the stand later Monday, he said he was caught by surprise after a tough day escorting a supply mission from the prison to Baghdad's airport.
"I was awakened in the middle of the night," he testified. "I had worked corrections and automatically when someone says they are reading you your rights, they are accusing you of something. You are basically guilty."
He said he told the agent that "all my pictures were on my computer."
But Iem said that during the initial search he had not yet obtained permission for his commander - a point seized on by defense lawyers seeking to cast doubt on the search's authorization.
Iem said at that point he had asked Graner explicitly to allow a search of the computer, and Graner refused. The agent said he believed based on previous experience that supervisors would approve the search, which in fact happened shortly afterward.
Another military investigator testified that suspicions focused on Graner's laptop after a soldier at Abu Ghraib, Spc. Joseph M. Darby, came forward and reported the alleged abuse to commanders.
Darby said Graner had a computer and a digital camera, making it reasonable for investigators to believe there could be evidence on Graner's equipment, said the agent, whose name was not immediately provided by military officials.
The Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April when photographs of hooded and naked prisoners were made public, touching off furious international criticism. Defense lawyers have suggested that the soldiers were following orders.
Graner became known worldwide from the picture of him posing for the camera with his thumbs up behind a pile of naked prisoners. He has been accused of jumping on prisoners as they lay on the ground, stomping on the hands and bare feet of several prisoners, and punching one inmate in the temple so hard that he lost consciousness.
Additionally, he faces adultery charges for having sex with Pfc. Lynndie England, who is now pregnant with his child and is currently facing a pretrial hearing in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Graner risks the harshest sentence of the four: up to 24 1/2 years in prison, forfeiture of pay, reduction of rank and a dishonorable discharge .
Lawyers won a judge's ruling to move the two-day session from Baghdad, where the process of bringing the defendants to trial began, to this west German city.
Ambuhl's lawyers said they would ask for testimony by a prison psychologist. Lawyers for both Graner, of Unionstown, Penn., and Ambuhl, of Centreville, Va., also said they would ask the court to spell out in detail what offenses the defendants allegedly committed and when.
In hearings in Iraq in late June, Judge Col. James Pohl ruled out moving the courts martial, but said he might reconsider if conditions in Iraq warranted a move when the trial begins.
The four soldiers being heard at Mannheim are among seven charged with abuse at Abu Ghraib. One of the seven, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, pleaded guilty May 19 and was sentenced to a year in prison. All were in Iraq as members of the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit based in Cresaptown, Md.
In U.S. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on abuse at Abu Ghraib, Davis is quoted as saying military intelligence soldiers made comments to Graner and Frederick insinuating that they wanted them to "loosen up" prisoners for interrogations.
Like Graner, Frederick is a prison guard in civilian life and both were considered by many of the other soldiers at the prison to be in charge because of their experience.