Graner gets 10 years in prison |

Graner gets 10 years in prison

Paul Peirce

FORT HOOD, Texas — Convicted U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. admitted Saturday that brutally assaulting and sexually humiliating prisoners while serving as a guard in Iraq was wrong, but he defiantly maintained he was “following orders.”

“At the time, I thought my actions were lawful or I never would have done them,” Graner told a military panel determining his sentence. “(But) I was told when military intelligence asks you to do something, you do it; so I followed orders.

“I didn’t enjoy anything I did there, but I did what I did. I acknowledge what I did was wrong, a lot was criminal,” he said.

However, Graner’s restrained apology and explanation of his activities while working inside the notorious Abu Ghraib prison did not sway the jury of four officers and six enlisted men who sentenced him to 10 years in prison. He also was reduced in rank to private, faces a total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and will be given a dishonorable discharge after he completes his sentence.

He could have received a maximum 15 years in prison.

Graner, 36, of Uniontown, hugged his mother, Irma, and shook his father Charles’ hand after the sentence was read. His parents attended each day of the trial.

“He’s scared to death,” his mother said.

But Graner told reporters, “I’ve already been behind bars for 14 years,” referring to his civilian employment as a prison guard at the State Correctional Institution at Greene and at the Fayette County Prison in Uniontown.

“Bad things happen in war,” he added.

For almost three hours on the witness stand, Graner discussed his actions at the prison, near Baghdad. It was the first time he spoke in detail about the scandal.

The abuse by Graner and several members of his Maryland-based unit sparked world outrage after the investigation was announced and stunning photographs of the incidents were leaked early last year.

On Friday, after deliberating for 5.5 hours, the jury found Graner guilty of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of subordinates, aggravated assault and indecent acts.

During the seven-day trial, prosecutors proved Graner was the ringleader among a few soldiers in the 372nd Military Police Company who assaulted detainees inside the Iraqi prison between October and December 2003.

Jurors found Graner guilty of intentionally walking a detainee into a pole, doing nothing to stop another guard from forcing a prisoner to masturbate, posing for photographs behind a naked pile of detainees, slamming detainees’ heads into cell doors while the prisoners were handcuffed, striking detainees with his fist and photographing a female prisoner exposing her breasts.

Lead prosecutor Maj. Michael Holley told jurors Graner deserved the maximum 15-year sentence.

“Don’t let him (Graner) trade upon the sacrifices of his brothers still serving (in Iraq). If the maximum punishment was ever appropriate for an accused, it is this accused,” Holley said.

“He (Graner) spoke to you this morning for nearly three hours and never once said he was sorry, not once,” Holley said.

Graner, wearing military dress uniform, appeared relaxed as he addressed the jurors — sometimes smiling, laughing and even joking at one point with the military judge, Col. James Pohl, as he adjusted his chair to a microphone in a witness stand.

“Some of the things we did were so screwed up, so wrong, if you didn’t smile, you couldn’t deal with it. Those smiles (in the photographs) are nervous smiles with what we were going through,” Graner said.

After he began work as a guard at Abu Ghraib on Oct. 15, 2003, Graner claimed he immediately recognized that the high-priority prisoners housed in his wing were treated differently than he experienced in his 14-year career as a corrections officer in Pennsylvania.

“We had Syrians, we had Jordanians, we had Yemenis and a few Iraqis. When I got there, I was told they needed a special breed of MP to do some things that normally don’t happen,” Graner said.

While working as a guard at the maximum security State Correctional Institution in Greene and at the Fayette County Prison in Uniontown, Graner said he followed a motto.

“You treat a prisoner the way you would want to be treated. I came into the hard-site tier expecting to do the same,” Graner said.

Initially, when he observed prisoners abused by military intelligence officers, he said he complained to several superiors and even the intelligence officers.

“I explained that’s not what we were trained for, that’s not what we’re here for. Care, custody and control, that’s what I expected to be doing,” Graner said.

But, Graner maintained, at Abu Ghraib he was ordered to assist intelligence officers working for the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Treasury agents in their interrogations.

“There was a good Iraqi list (of prisoners) and a bad Iraqi list. If you were on the good list, you got good food like the rest of the prisoners; and if you were on the bad list, you got sterilized MRIs,” Graner said.

Graner said he witnessed “a lot of craziness” in the treatment of prisoners by military intelligence.

“To a layperson, a lot of things that happen in a prison may look wrong, though a lot that goes on is bad. You can have use of force that looks bad, but it is justified,” Graner said.

“An inmate is an inmate is an inmate, whether it’s SCI Greene, Fayette County or at Abu Ghraib. They (prisoners) are always trying to play games with you,” Graner said.

In addition to dietary and sleep deprivation, intelligence personnel often sought MP’s assistance with their interrogations.

Immediately after he was sentenced, Graner was handcuffed by military police and led out of the courthouse into a white military van. He was taken to the Bell County Prison in Belton until military officials make arrangements to transport him to a military prison.

Graner also took a shot at Sgt. Joseph Darby, of Somerset County, the soldier credited with turning over the photographs of abuse that spurred the investigation. Graner told jurors that he complained about corrections procedures used at Abu Ghraib to Darby in October 2003, but Darby did not anonymously notify superiors until mid-January 2004.

Graner’s testimony was unsworn, meaning under military law he was not subject to cross-examination by Holley or co-prosecutor Capt. Chris Graveline.

Two corrections officers, his former superiors at the Fayette County Prison, where he worked from 1989 to 1990, and the State Correctional Institution at Greene, where he worked from the mid-1990s until he was fired from the state’s maximum security facility last fall, also testified during the sentencing hearing that began Friday evening.

The state Department of Corrections fired Graner after he was criminally charged in the Abu Ghraib case.

“He was excellent,” said Sgt. Michael Zavada, a Fayette County prison guard who trained Graner.

“He was from the military, the Marines. He was very disciplined and not hard to train,” Zavada said.

Zavada said Graner regularly spent his spare time at the institution “reading our policies.”

Under cross-examination by Graveline, Zavada said he wasn’t familiar with disciplinary actions taken against Graner at the county lock-up including a five-day suspension. Graveline said Graner was often disciplined for being late.

Sgt. Brian Cassidy, of SCI Greene, said Graner “pretty much performed at a professional level all the time. I don’t recall having him question anything I told him to do.”

Cassidy told jurors that Graner was fired once for refusing to work overtime, but he later was reinstated after he appealed the termination.

Under court-martial rules, Graner has an opportunity to submit an appeal for clemency to the Commanding General before he approves the findings and sentence. According to Capt. S. Charles Neill, office of the staff judge advocate at Fort Hood, the appeal usually is made in writing and could allege legal errors or include letters from family members or other matters to support clemency.

Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, the commanding general for III Corps, has the authority to take any favorable action in the case including setting aside findings of guilt and reducing the sentence.

Neill said Metz does not have authority to impose a more severe sentence.

The U.S. Army also provides appellate attorneys to represent soldiers on appeal. Graner’s case will be automatically appealed to the Army Court for Criminal Appeals because the sentence includes confinement over six months and a bad conduct discharge.

Neill said the appellate court will focus on legal errors at the trial level. Neill said Graner also could retain civilian counsel to assist in the appeal.

“Like civilian appellate courts, ACCA can set aside findings, reduce the sentence or order a new trial,” Neill said.

Although Graner was sentenced to 10 years, he could have two years shaved off his sentence for good behavior, according to Fort Hood officials. Neill said Graner could earn “good time credit” of approximately five days for each month served.

Judge Pohl ordered a reduction in Graner’s sentence by 20 days for time served on restrictive duty while military officials were investigating the scandal last year.

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