FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) – A lawyer for Charles Graner, accused ringleader in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, on Monday compared piling naked prisoners into pyramids to cheerleader shows and said leashing inmates was also acceptable prisoner control.
Graner’s attorney said piling naked prisoners into pyramids and leading them by a leash were acceptable methods of prisoner control. He compared this to pyramids made by cheerleaders at sports events and parents putting tethers on toddlers.
“Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?” Guy Womack, Graner’s attorney, said in opening arguments to the 10-member U.S. military jury at the reservist’s court-martial.
Reservist Graner and Pvt. Lynndie England, with whom he fathered a child and who is also facing a court-martial, became the faces of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal after they appeared smiling in photographs that showed degraded, naked prisoners.
Prosecutors also presented shocking new videos and photos from Abu Ghraib prison, including forced group masturbation.
Womack said using a tether was a valid method of controlling detainees. “You’re keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections,” he said. “In Texas we’d lasso them and drag them out of there.”
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The most dramatic testimony on Monday came from Pvt. Ivan Frederick, sentenced last year to eight years in prison in the case, who discussed the episodes portrayed in photographs that outraged the world after their publication last year.
After prosecutors screened grainy video that was previously not made public showing naked and hooded Iraqi male prisoners masturbating, Frederick said Graner and England joked about the incident.
“He (Graner) said something to the fact that it was a present for her birthday,” said Frederick, who, like Graner, was also a prison guard in civilian life.
Frederick recounted several occasions on which Graner hit prisoners, including once when he knocked out a man before piling him and others into a naked human pyramid. “He shook his hand and said ‘damn, that hurt’,” Frederick said.
Pvt. Jeremy Sivits, who is serving a year in prison for his role in the abuse, recalled the same incident. “I told Corp. Graner, ‘I think you knocked him out, sir,”‘ said Sivits, who pleaded guilty at his court martial last year. “He obviously had to hit him pretty hard to knock him out.”
Pictures of the humiliating treatment of the prisoners at the prison near Baghdad further eroded the credibility of the United States already damaged in many countries by the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Apart from saying the methods were not illegal, Graner’s defense is that he was following orders. “He was doing his job. Following orders and being praised for it,” Womack told the court, adding later that Graner would testify in the case.
The chief prosecutor, Maj. Michael Holley, asked rhetorically: “Did the accused honestly believe that was a lawful order?”
Womack tried to establish that civilian intelligence officers and others wanted the guards to maltreat prisoners to get information.
The Bush administration has blamed the abuse on a small group and said it was not part of a policy or condoned by senior officers.
But investigations have shown many prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba also suffered abusive treatment after the government considered ways to obtain information in the war against terrorism.
Graner, 36, faces up to 17 1/2 years in prison on charges that include mistreating detainees, dereliction of duty and assault. He has pleaded not guilty. The trial was expected to last at least a week.