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US Soldier Convicted, Gets Year Jail Term for Iraqi Prisoner Abuse - 2004-05-19

The first of a series of U.S. military trials in Iraq stemming from a prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib detention facility ended with the conviction of Army Specialist Jeremy Sivits. Specialist Sivits may provide testimony against six other soldiers involved in the scandal.

Cameras and recording devices were not allowed in the Baghdad Convention Center, where a makeshift courtroom was set up for the trial.

On Wednesday, 24-year-old Jeremy Sivits, who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison last year as a mechanic in a military police unit, pleaded guilty to three abuse charges. The plea was part of a deal to receive leniency in exchange for his testimony against six other soldiers, who are believed to have played much bigger roles in the abuse scandal.

Three of those soldiers, Sergeant Javal Davis, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Specialist Charles Graner, appeared for arraignment, but did not enter pleas.

More than 120 people - including journalists, Iraqi ministers, several members of the Iraqi Governing Council, and observers from Britain and Australia - jammed the courtroom as Sivits tearfully apologized to the Iraqi people, to the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, to the U.S. military and to his family.

He said he felt he had, in his words, "let everyone down," and was truly sorry for what he did.

Despite his remorse, the presiding judge, Colonel James Pohl, handed Sivits the maximum penalty - one year in prison, reduction in rank, and a bad conduct discharge from the Army.

Charges against Sivits alleged that last November, he had escorted a prisoner to be positioned on a pile of naked prisoners and then photographed the men after they were forced to create a human pyramid.

In an emotional description of the events that night, Sivits said that he had escorted the prisoner, but did not take any pictures. He said he did take a photo of Specialist Graner appearing to strike a blow to the head of a prisoner. Sivits said that he later saw Specialist Graner knock one prisoner unconscious.

Sivits also testified that one of the six accused soldiers told him that the guards were just following orders. But Sivits added that he did not believe the soldier.

After viewing the trial, the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights Bakhtiar Amin said that he was satisfied that justice was being served. But he warned that Iraqis would not accept anything less than full accountability.

?If this person was an Iraqi and brought before an Iraqi court, he would have got a less punishment than what he got today for what he had done,? Mr. Amin said. ?Of course, what they have done has other consequences of a political nature and we hope that there are no scapegoats in this process and those who are responsible for this and gave orders should be brought to justice.?

In the streets of Baghdad, few people said they had any knowledge about the trial. But 24-year-old taxi driver Ali Mohammed Selman says that he believes the accused soldiers should also be judged by the Iraqi people.

Mr. Selman says the soldiers should be tried in an Iraqi court because what they did was hurt the Iraqi people. He insists the only punishment for them is execution.

The U.S. military says it allowed news coverage of the trial to demonstrate its resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty to the fullest extent of the law. Nine Arab newspapers and two leading Arab television networks were among nearly three dozen news organizations allowed into the courtroom.