Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Hearings Delayed

By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Court proceedings for two soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal have been delayed until July, and a military hearing officer gagged potential witnesses from speaking to the press.
    An Article 32 hearing — the equivalent of a pretrial hearing — was scheduled to start today at Ft. Bragg for Pfc. Lynndie England, the 21-year-old Army reservist who appears in several widely publicized photos with naked Iraqi detainees.
    "Parties have agreed to delay the Article 32 investigation into England's charges until the week of July 12," the Army said in a statement issued here Monday, without further explanation.
    Overseas, a military hearing officer delayed proceedings for Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick II when his civilian attorney, Gary Myers, no-showed.
    According to the Herald Sun of Australia, Myers said he wanted to participate by telephone because Iraq is dangerous.
    The hearing officer, Col. James Pohl, postponed Frederick's hearing until July 23 and admonished Myers' co-counsel.
    "You tell Mr. Myers that is the date," Pohl said. "I don't care how many bombs are going off — let me rephrase, I do care how many bombs are going off, but unless there are extraordinary circumstances, I'm going ahead with this trial," the Herald Sun reported.
    Only England's case will be heard in the United States. She was transferred stateside after becoming pregnant with the child of Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., the alleged ringleader among the seven MPs.
    Graner was also in court Monday in Baghdad, where Pohl deemed the Abu Ghraib facility a crime scene and ruled that it can't be demolished until the trial process is over.
    But its eventual razing isn't assured. The new Iraqi provisional government has said it will reject an offer from President Bush to tear down the place where Saddam Hussein tortured and murdered untold thousands of political enemies, often severing hands, tongues and heads in the process.
    Pohl denied a request from Sgt. Javal "Sean" Davis' attorney to call Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the stand. But Pohl agreed to let attorneys question the region's top two military officers — Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the soon-to-be-replaced commander in Iraq.
    Sanchez has come under increasing scrutiny amid allegations he sanctioned improper intelligence gathering practices at the prison.
    Whether John B. Israel, an Iraqi-born translator from Canyon Country, was among the witnesses Pohl approved for testimony was not immediately known Monday.
    However, the Army said in a statement that "the government agreed to defense requests for the employment files of certain civilian contractors and adverse administrative actions against the chain of command."
    Israel, 48, is one of two civilian contractors an Army general has accused of sharing overall responsibility for the abuse, and defense attorneys have told The Signal they intended to seek his testimony, which, if compelled, could come by telephone hookup.
    Pohl conceded a government request to admonish "all potential panel members to avoid any media coverage on these cases," the Army statement said.
    However, Pohl granted a defense motion to declassify certain witness statements that are part of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on the abuse.
    "Each defense team will be provided access to the relevant detainees' files," Army spokeswoman Jill Morganthaler said in a statement. "Witness statements from the Taguba Report will be declassified, if possible."
    A spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Baghdad told The Signal that decisions to declassify a document are ultimately made by the person who classified it.