By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 5:30 PM
BAGHDAD, June 24 -- The company commander of the U.S. soldiers charged with abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison testified Thursday that the top military intelligence commander at the prison was present the night a detainee died during an interrogation and efforts were made to conceal the details of his death.
Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd Military Police Company, said he was summoned one night in November to a shower room in a cellblock at the prison, where he discovered the body of a bloodied detainee on the floor. A group of intelligence personnel was standing around the body, discussing what to do, he said. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of military intelligence at the prison, was among those present, said Reese.
Reese said an Army colonel named Jordan sent a soldier to the prison mess hall for ice to preserve the body overnight. Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was head of the interrogation center at the prison, but it was unclear whether he was the officer to whom Reese referred.
No medics were called, Reese said, and the detainee's identification was never recorded.
Reese testified that he heard Pappas say at one point, "I'm not going down for this alone."
An autopsy the next day determined that the man's death was caused by a blood clot resulting from a blow to the head, Reese said, and the body subsequently was hooked up to an intravenous drip as if it were a live detainee and taken out of the prison, Reese recalled. There is no known record of what happened to the body after that.
Reese's testimony came during the first day of an investigative hearing for Spc. Sabrina Harman, one of seven Army reservists from the 372nd charged with abusing detainees at the prison late last year.
During investigations of alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib, statements by other witnesses have described the death of detainee, and the corpse appears in photographs documenting abuse at the prison. But no testimony or evidence had previously indicated Pappas was in the shower room on the night that the detainee died.
During an earlier hearing for another soldier in the 372nd, Spec. Jason A. Kenner testified that a Navy SEAL team and officers from other government agencies -- referred to as OGA, a designation that commonly includes CIA operatives -- brought the detainee in alive with a bag over his head. Kenner said he later saw that the man had been severely beaten on his face.
Intelligence officers took the detainee to a shower room used for interrogations, Kenner said, and shackled him to a wall. "About an hour later, he died on them," Kenner testified. "They decided to put him on ice. There was a battle between [OGA] and MI as to who was going to take care of the body. A couple days later, he was finally disposed of."
Harman, one of seven soldiers from the 372nd charged with abusing detainees at the prison, appears in two photographs that military prosecutors are using as evidence against her, including one in which she is smiling and giving the thumbs-up with the corpse in the shower room.
The Army has accused her of taking photographs of a pyramid of naked detainees and photographing and videotaping detainees who were ordered to strip and masturbate in front of other prisoners and soldiers, according to her charge sheet. She is also charged with jumping on several prisoners as they lay in a pile; with writing "rapeist" on a prisoner's leg; and with attaching wires to a prisoner's hands while he stood on a box with his head covered. She told him he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box, the documents allege.
A former pizza shop assistant manager from Alexandria, Harman, 26, told The Washington Post last month that members of her military police unit took direction from Army military intelligence officers, from Central Intelligence Agency operatives and from civilian contractors who conducted interrogations at the prison.
She was not called to testify on Thursday, but Reese said military intelligence clearly controlled the cellblock where Harman and other members of her military police platoon worked the night shift.
"My MPs, they were directed by the MI people for what they wanted and how they wanted it," he said.
Earlier this week a U.S. Army judge accepted a request by attorneys of three other soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib case to question the top commanders in Iraq and their subordinates. The judge issued the rulings at pretrial hearings for Sgt. Javal S. Davis, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II.
Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, the first soldier to face a court-martial, pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Defense witnesses testified that Harman was a good soldier, quiet and well liked by the Iraqis she encountered when the 372nd was based in Hilla, south of Baghdad, before being transferred to the prison.
"She was very friendly," Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Snider testified at the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to convene a court-martial. "Anytime we were out on the streets in al-Hilla, people would ask, 'Where's Sabrina? Where's Sabrina?' "
Reese said he never had a problem with Harman. "She did a good job," he said. "I never witnessed anything hostile. I never saw any show of force."
Harman's hearing was held in a small courtroom at Camp Victory, a U.S. Army base near Baghdad International Airport. Harman, a petite woman with brown hair pulled back into a tight bun, listened quietly as the charges against her where read. When the investigating officer asked her a question, she answered, "Yes, sir," barely above a whisper. Throughout the hearing, she scribbled notes on a white legal pad. Graner and Spc. Megan Ambuhl, two other soldiers charged with abuse, sat in a corner at the back of the courtroom.
Two other soldiers testified during the hearing that they saw detainees being abused but only one reported it to a superior. Both said Harman was present the nights they saw detainees being mistreated.
Spec. Matthew Wisdom, a military policemen, said he saw Frederick strike a detainee in the chest. The same night, Wisdon said, he observed naked detainees being forced to masturbate in front of each other.
Spec. Israel Rivera, a military intelligence soldier, said he also was bothered after watching the military police soldiers order three naked detainees to crawl low enough so that their genitals would scrape the floor.
Rivera said he had heard that the detainees were involved in a rape of a fellow detainee and that he told an Army specialist about the incident but never reported anything to his commanders.
"When we toppled the regime, it was suppose to afford people these rights and privileges, one not being in fear of torture," he said. "By keeping silent that night, I became an accomplice to denying those rights to the Iraqi people."