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Iraq: In Prison Abuse Hearing, U.S. Guards Accused Of Doing It 'Just For Fun'

Abuse at Abu Ghurayb Debate is growing over who bears responsibility for the U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners. At a court hearing in the United States yesterday, U.S. military investigators portrayed U.S. guards accused of torturing prisoners at Abu Ghurayb prison as doing it "just for fun" and "to vent their frustration." But the lawyer of defendant Private Lynndie England said that she and other guards acted on orders from military intelligence officials who wanted guards to "soften up" prisoners for interrogations -- a tactic the lawyer said was "systemic" in numerous U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. general formerly in charge of Abu Ghurayb says the abuse was hidden from her in a cover-up that may reach the top levels of the U.S. government.

Prague, 4 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In the words of "The New York Times," Private Lynndie England was "the grinning face of the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal."

England's cavalier smile amid scenes of brutal prisoner abuse became familiar around the world from photographs released to the media of Iraqi detainees being humiliated and tortured by their U.S. guards.

The most infamous photo -- showing England holding a naked prisoner on a dog leash -- helped spark global outrage at the abuse, prompting a personal apology from U.S. President George W. Bush.
"Basically it was just for fun...and to vent their frustration."

On 3 August, England appeared at the start of what is expected to be a week-long hearing before a military judge to decide whether she should face a court martial on 19 charges of assault and misconduct.

Lieutenant Colonel Gregg Woods opened the proceedings at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the southeastern United States. "This hearing is required before any of the charges that have been [brought] against PFC [Private First Class] England can go forward to a general court martial and what is happening today is that Colonel Arn is the investigative officer, and she's looking into the form of the charges and the evidence that's been presented to see whether or not they support the charges and the allegations that have been [brought] against PFC England. She will then make a recommendation to her appointing authority as to if these charges should go forward to a court martial," Woods said.

But as with many court cases, the hearing turned into a duel between competing versions of the truth.

The day's witnesses -- two officers in charge of the U.S. military's investigation into the Abu Ghurayb scandal -- both portrayed England and six other guards charged in the case as having acted own their own and outside of any official policy.

Chief Warrant Officer Paul Arthur, the lead investigator into the case, was asked why the guards had abused the prisoners. Arthur responded: "Basically it was just for fun...and to vent their frustration."

Special Agent Warren Worth, the other investigator, said that he had found no evidence that orders to abuse prisoners had come from higher in the military chain of command than two sergeants -- Charles Graner and Ivan Frederick -- who are among those soldiers charged in the case.

England's defense attorney, Richard Hernandez, told a news conference later that England and the other six defendants have all testified that they abused prisoners on the express orders of U.S. military intelligence officials.

"They were given orders by military intelligence to soften up, or rough up, detainees to make them more accessible to interrogation methods used by M.I. [military intelligence]. I believe that was the testimony today," Hernandez said.

Hernandez also said he believes the abuse was "systemic" and that "these tactics are being used at places my client has never been."

The competing arguments heard at the proceeding reflect the sharp divide seen in two separate reports on the Abu Ghurayb scandal.

A report by the U.S. Army's inspector-general concluded in July that there were no systemic problems that contributed to the prisoner abuse.

Yet in contrast to its own findings, the Army study also cites a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which concluded last February that "methods of ill treatment" were "used in a systemic" way by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Senator Carl Levin, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a Senate hearing in July that he found it hard to believe the abuse was limited to the seven soldiers charged at Abu Ghurayb.

"Interrogation techniques witnessed by the ICRC during visits to Abu Ghurayb appear consistent with techniques that we now know were approved and later rescinded by high level Defense Department officials or by commanders in theater in Iraq. In light of the frequently changing, quote "rules of engagement," as they were called, for interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is difficult to believe that there were not systemic problems with our detention and interrogation operations," Levin said.

As England faced her hearing, the U.S. general formerly in charge of Abu Ghurayb said the abuse was hidden from her in a cover-up that may reach as high as the Pentagon and the White House.

Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski told Britain's BBC Radio that those with "full knowledge" of what was going on in Abu Ghurayb deliberately kept her uninformed about abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners.

Karpinski was responsible for the military prison police in Iraq. She has been suspended from that job, but has not been charged with any crime.

Both the Pentagon and the White House have denied ever condoning the abuse in Iraq.

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