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US Soldier on Trial for Alleged Abuse of Prisoners in Iraq

A military court at Fort Hood, Texas, Monday heard opening testimony in the trial of US Army Specialist Charles Graner, who is accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners of war at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The trial began with opening statements by prosecuting and defense attorneys. Prosecutors say Specialist Graner violated a number of military rules and international conventions in his treatment of prisoners. His defense attorney, Guy Womack of Houston, rejected the charges, describing the soldier's actions as legitimate prisoner control techniques.

The first witness, Specialist Matthew Wisdom, testified Monday that he saw Specialist Graner punch an Iraqi detainee. Specialist Wisdom, who served as a military guard at the prison, said he refused to take part in the abuse and reported it to a superior officer.

Another witness, Private Jeremy Sivits, said Specialist Graner posed prisoners in simulated sexual positions and also stacked them on top of one another. He described the accused soldier as-laughing and having a good time, while forcing naked Iraqi prisoners to pose for photographs. Private Sivits pleaded guilty in May of last year to taking part in the abuse and received a one-year prison sentence, a reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge as part of a plea bargain to avoid a harsher sentence. Two other members of the same unit who also made plea deals are expected to testify as well.

For his part, Specialist Graner has tried to project an upbeat image in pre-trial statements to the news media. "Whatever happens is going to happen. I still feel it is going to be on the positive side," he said.

If convicted on all counts, Specialist Graner could face more than 17 years in prison. The 10-man jury hearing the case is composed of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men.

Defense Attorney Womack describes his client as cool and professional and has suggested he may take the unusual step of putting him on the stand to tell his story. The trial is expected to last at least a week.