Sergeant Is Sentenced to 8 Years in Abuse Case


New York Times

October 22, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 21 - A military court sentenced Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II on Thursday to eight years in prison for abusing Iraqi prisoners last year in the grim chambers of Abu Ghraib.

It was the harshest sentence yet in the abuse hearings, involving the highest-ranking enlisted soldier of the eight charged in the scandal. Two others have been convicted.

The judge, Col. James A. Pohl, also reduced Sergeant Frederick's rank to private, and ordered him dishonorably discharged.

The sergeant had originally been sentenced to 10 years in prison, but that term was reduced to eight years through a plea bargain that also calls for forfeiture of pay. The bargain requires Sergeant Frederick to cooperate in the pending cases.

Sergeant Frederick pleaded guilty to eight counts of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, 15 miles west of Baghdad, in October and November of 2003. In court, he described in graphic detail how he had forced Arab prisoners to masturbate, punched a hooded prisoner and attached wires to another standing on a flimsy box who was made to believe he would be electrocuted if he fell off.

Prosecutors considered Sergeant Frederick, 38, an Army reservist who worked as a corrections officer back home, a ringleader of the soldiers charged in the case. They insisted, however, that they were acting under guidance from military intelligence officers, and that commanders had created an environment where detainee abuse was encouraged in order to get information.

The incidents first became public at the end of April, after photographs of the abuse were shown on a CBS News program. The abuse inflamed the already widespread resentment of the American occupation throughout Iraq and the Arab world.

Also on Thursday, the Army said it began an Article 32 hearing - the equivalent of a civilian pretrial hearing - in the case of Staff Sgt. Jonathan J. Alban, who is being investigated for premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

An Army investigator testified that, based on eyewitness accounts, Sergeant Alban, his platoon leader and another staff sergeant in the platoon were reported to have decided to kill a severely injured Iraqi man in a burning truck on Aug. 17.

The victim was at the site of a firefight between soldiers of the First Cavalry Division and Iraqis supposedly trying to plant roadside bombs in the hostile Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, the prosecutor said.

Sergeant Alban and his two colleagues decided to put the Iraqi "out of his misery," the investigator said, and eyewitnesses testified they saw the sergeant fire multiple rounds into the man with his rifle.

Sergeant Alban is a member of Company C, First Battalion, 41st Infantry, of the First Cavalry Division, which is charged with controlling Baghdad. Another soldier faces the same charges.

The court will decide if the case will go to trial. If convicted, Sergeant Alban would receive a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death.

In the case of Sergeant Frederick, the defendant's lawyer, Gary Myers, said he intended to appeal the sentence, calling it "excessive."

He said the military had created a culture where prisoner abuse was fully accepted.

"Punish him, yes," Mr. Myers said. "But please try to understand the defense's point of view that there is corporate responsibility."

The prosecutor, Maj. Michael Holley, argued that the case was fairly clear-cut.

"He's an adult capable of making decisions," Major Holley said. "He's an adult and capable of telling, as we learned, the difference between right and wrong. How much training do you need to learn that it's wrong to force a man to masturbate?"

In Mountain Lake Park, Md., the mother of Sergeant Frederick, Joann Frederick, said her son had called her from Camp Victory, in western Baghdad, where the trial was held.

"Twenty years in the military, and he's lost it all," she said. "He didn't ask for the transfer to that prison. At the time he was transferred there, he told them, 'I'm not qualified for this job in rank or experience.' They said that's O.K. Do the best you can."

Lisa A. Bacon contributed reporting from Richmond, Va.