Lawyer wants Bush on witness stand over Iraq abuse

REUTERS

Mon 21 June, 2004 10:04

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A lawyer defending a U.S. soldier charged with abusing prisoners in Iraq says he will seek to put U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld on the witness stand.

Bush and Rumsfeld sidestepped the Geneva Convention in their "war on terror", civilian defence counsel Paul Bergrin said on Monday.

His client, Sergeant Javal Davis, was instructed on a daily basis to soften up Iraqi prisoners to obtain intelligence, Bergrin said.

"Bush gave a speech declaring his war on terror and said the Geneva Convention no longer applied," he told reporters after an impassioned address in the court room.

He accused Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials of trying to redefine the definitions of abuse and torture in a campaign aimed at influencing lawyers at the Department of Justice.

Pretrial hearings are being held in Baghdad this week for Davis, Specialist Charles Graner and Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, reviving notorious images of sexual and physical humiliation that sparked worldwide outrage.

The photographs of smirking American soldiers tormenting naked detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison rocked the U.S. military when they emerged in April, prompting accusations that policies adopted in Bush's "war on terror" had encouraged the cruelty.

Davis is accused of abuses including jumping on a pile of prisoners and stamping on their hands.

"My client was not even instructed for five minutes on the meaning of the Geneva Convention, nor was he trained to work in a prison. He was instructed on a daily basis by military intelligence and civilian contractors to soften up and loosen up detainees so he could save American soldiers from getting slaughtered," Bergrin said.

During Monday's hearing, the U.S. military judge handling the case agreed to Bergrin's request to question top American generals.

Judge Colonel James Pohl said Central Command chief General John Abizaid and Iraq commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez could be interviewed.

The U.S. army, keen to demonstrate it is weeding out the culprits, has launched investigations into seven low-ranking suspects in relation to abuse at Abu Ghraib, which U.S. officials have blamed on a few wayward individuals.

Pohl ordered the prison be preserved as a "crime scene", despite a suggestion by Bush that the building be demolished.

Bergrin said he wanted to take members of the jury to the jail so they could experience the conditions U.S. soldiers were working under.

"We want the court members to smell the faecal matter and the urine that service members who worked inside that prison and who are accused in this case had to live with," he said.

The hearing on Monday, at a convention centre built by Saddam Hussein, aims to resolve any outstanding legal issues ahead of the start of the court martial.

The trio have yet to plead.

Graner, who faces the most serious accusations, could be sentenced to up to 24 years and six months in jail if convicted.

He is accused of photographing a detainee being dragged on a lea sh, and posing for a picture by a pile of naked detainees.

Graner is also charged with making prisoners strip and masturbate in front of each other, and forcing one detainee to simulate oral sex on another, before taking a picture.

Frederick faces charges including participating in an incident where a prisoner was hooded and made to stand on a box with wires attached to him, and told he would be electrocuted if he fell off -- an image splashed on front pages worldwide.

One U.S. soldier, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, has already been sentenced to a year in prison after admitting abuse charges.