Soldiers Testify on Orders to Soften Prisoners in Iraq

By KATE ZERNIKE

New York Times

January 13, 2005

FORT HOOD, Tex., Jan. 12 - Interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq gave the military police orders to "soften up" or give harsh treatment to detainees in the weeks leading up to the night that a group of soldiers put naked and hooded prisoners in sexually humiliating positions and photographed them, several soldiers and a detainee testified in a military court here on Wednesday.

The orders included instructions to leave detainees naked, to twist their arms in extreme positions behind their necks, and to apply pain to sensitive parts of the body, the soldiers testified. They said the treatment became more aggressive as the weeks wore on, so much so that on one occasion the military police refused to carry it out.

The testimony about orders formed the backbone of the defense as lawyers for Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., the Army reservist accused of being the ringleader of the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, began presenting their case in his court-martial here on Wednesday.

Specialist Graner's lawyers have consistently argued that he believed he was acting under legal orders - a viable defense under military law, even if the orders were in fact illegal - when he put the prisoners in the positions seen in the photographs.

But on Wednesday, all but one of the nine witnesses called by the defense ended up, under cross-examination, undercutting part of Specialist Graner's case, telling how he beat detainees and threw pepper in their eyes, and was repeatedly reprimanded for refusing to follow what one military superior called "simple basic instructions."

Master Sgt. Brian Lipinski, who had been one of Specialist Graner's superiors in the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Maryland, testified that in November 2003, two weeks after the photographs were taken, a report given to Specialist Graner noted that a military intelligence officer "says you are doing a good job."

But under questioning from the prosecution, Master Sergeant Lipinski explained that the report was written because of an incident in which he and another officer had discovered blood on the wall in the area of the prison where Specialist Graner worked, and a detainee bleeding from four head and neck wounds.

Specialist Graner first said the detainee had tripped, but then admitted that he had slammed the detainee's head against the wall. So while the report started with praise, it quickly moved on to tell Specialist Graner that he needed to handle his stress and learn to follow orders.

"He kept pushing the envelope," Master Sergeant Lipinski said. "The uniform, the hair, the standards, just simple instructions, simple basic instructions." He also acknowledged under questioning from the prosecution that Specialist Graner had refused repeated orders to stay away from Pfc. Lynndie R. England, his girlfriend at the time and the woman seen holding a leash around the neck of a naked Iraqi detainee in one Abu Ghraib picture.

The prosecution has argued that there is no evidence that any interrogators gave the soldiers orders, direct or implicit, to carry out the things seen in the photographs - naked detainees forced to masturbate, simulate oral sex, and stack into a human pyramid - and that any soldier would know not to beat detainees in the way that has repeatedly been described here and in other official accounts.

Two other soldiers who testified for the defense on Wednesday said they had repeatedly been told, in oral instructions and in signs posted around the prison, not to take photographs of the detainees.

Roger Brokaw, a retired military interrogator who was at Abu Ghraib, said that he had asked the military police to stop putting hoods and handcuffs on detainees as they escorted them to interrogations. "The M.P.'s wouldn't do it," he said. "They said, no, we have to show them who's boss."

He added, "From my conversations with the M.P.'s, they assumed that all the Iraqis were terrorists and needed discipline."

Mr. Brokaw told prosecutors in response to their cross-examination that no interrogator would have condoned pyramids, forced masturbation or nudity, and that he thought harsh treatments did not work.

"Whenever you use harsh treatments you are more likely to get false information just to stop the treatment," he said. And in the weeks around the time the photographs were taken, he said, higher-ups several times restricted what interrogation techniques could be used, ruling out the harsher methods.

But Pvt. Ivan L. Frederick, who admitted his role in the photographs and is now serving eight years as part of guilty plea, gave a different account. He said a civilian interrogator cursed as he handed off an Iraqi detainee and said he did not care what the military police did to him, adding, "Just don't kill him."

The detainee, nicknamed "Gilligan" by the soldiers, was draped in black cloth and forced to stand on a meals-ready-to-eat box with wires attached to him, in a photograph that has become a symbol of the abuse scandal.

Private Frederick named three interrogators who he said had given orders to be rough with detainees. Military intelligence consistently praised the military police, he testified. "They would tell us we were doing a good job, to keep up the good work," he said.

But he said he and Specialist Graner had refused an order in November 2003, about the time of the photos, to rough up an Iraqi believed to have given a gun to an inmate.

The prosecution used this to show that Specialist Graner knew he could refuse an illegal order. A defense of following orders works only if a reasonable person in the same situation would believe the order to be legal.

Specialist Chee Yee Liang, who served with Specialist Graner, said an interrogator had ordered her to leave detainees naked and give them "special treatment," and once asked her to watch as a detainee showered, knowing it would offend his Muslim faith. But when the prosecution asked if she would have known it was illegal to order detainees to masturbate, she nodded: "Yes."

Specialist Graner's demeanor seemed to darken as the day went on. Earlier in the week, he had been greeting reporters with quips, and pointing out articles about himself in local newspapers. On Wednesday, he slumped in the courtroom, and refused to say anything to reporters.