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Coalition announces first court-martial in prisoner abuse scandal

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A U.S. Army specialist suspected of snapping some of the now-notorious photos of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners will be the first soldier to face a public court-martial in the scandal, the U.S.-led coalition announced Sunday.

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, 24, a military policeman from Hyndman, Pa., will stand trial in Baghdad on May 19, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for U.S. military operations in Iraq. In an indication of how ordinary Iraqis likely will receive the news, some Arab journalists walked out of an informal press briefing in disgust when they learned Iraqi judicial figures would have no role in the trial.

Sivits, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, is charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty, and maltreatment of detainees, Kimmitt said.

If he's convicted, the maximum sentence is a year in confinement, a demotion in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge, military officials said. Sivits could receive one, all or a combination of the penalties.

Seven soldiers, including Sivits, face criminal charges for alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, just west of Baghdad. A coalition investigation into prisoner abuse began in January, but the story exploded into the public arena when the photos first aired Apr. 28 on the TV show "60 Minutes II."

President Bush has condemned the incidents in interviews with Arab media, and said Saturday that "we will learn all the facts and determine the full extent of these abuses. Those involved will be identified. They will answer for their actions."

Sivits, whose family has told journalists he took some of the photos, is considered one of the lesser figures in the scandal. Military authorities determined he could bypass an Article 32 hearing, the military's equivalent of a grand jury, and proceed with a special court-martial with a capped sentence. At least four of the other suspects already have undergone Article 32 hearings and likely will face general courts-martial, which could bring more severe punishments.

Some of the other six suspects were shown in pictures leading a nude Iraqi prisoner by a dog leash, stacking naked Iraqis in a human pyramid and posing next to detainees apparently forced to simulate sexual acts.

A 53-page internal military report prepared in February by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba named Sivits as a suspect in incidents of abuse from October to December. Taguba's investigation found "numerous photos and videos portraying in graphic detail detainee abuse by military police personnel on numerous occasions." Taguba wrote that several suspects had confessed their involvement.

Also on Sunday, more than 1,000 Shiite Muslims marched in Baghdad, shouting that their dreams of freedom were dashed by the coalition's decision to turn to members of Saddam Hussein's former military to help suppress insurgents west of the capital.

Demonstrators carried placards with Bush's face juxtaposed with photos of brutalities Shiites suffered under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

"Congratulations, new regime, you've returned the old regime to power," said Mona Zelzella, a 47-year-old woman who carried a poster of the Statue of Liberty crying tears of blood. "Let the tears of orphans and widows burn what's left of the old regime!"

In other developments:

_At least 19 insurgents were killed in four separate clashes with U.S. troops in Baghdad, Kimmitt said. Most were militiamen loyal to a radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and died during intense firefights in the capital's slum neighborhood known as Sadr City. No coalition casualties were reported. Fighting continues between the cleric's forces and coalition troops in southern Shiite cities.

_Three Iraqi police and six civilians were killed in other incidents that included a bombing in a bustling Baghdad market and insurgents firing on police from rooftops.

_A homemade bomb hit a busload of Iraqi prisoners scheduled for release Saturday afternoon, according to the military. Seven prisoners were treated for shrapnel wounds. U.S. troops killed one attacker and arrested another.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.