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Officers who abused Iraqis were `joking around,' says investigator

FORT BRAGG, N.C.—The military police officers accused of abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison "were just joking around, having some fun, working the night shift" and weren't following orders to "soften up" detainees for questioning, an Army investigator testified at a hearing Tuesday.

Chief Warrant Officer Paul Arthur said interviews with more than 400 soldiers, civilians and commanding officers who worked at Abu Ghraib didn't back up claims by Pfc. Lynndie England and six other members of the 372nd Military Police Company that they were following orders.

England, the 21-year-old reservist whose cheerful poses with naked and hooded Iraqis have become a worldwide symbol of American military abuse, "did it for fun," Arthur said.

Arthur was one of two investigators from the Army's criminal investigation division to testify Tuesday as the military began a so-called Article 32 hearing for England to determine if the evidence against her merits putting her on trial in the abuse case.

Her famous smile replaced with a sullen stare, England, dressed in a camouflage uniform and a black beret, listened quietly to the testimony during the morning, occasionally responding to procedural questions in a soft voice. She didn't return after a noon recess.

Richard Hernandez, England's lead attorney, attacked the Army's Abu Ghraib investigation as incomplete, understaffed and riven by internal conflicts of interest. He demanded the right to question senior Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, about interrogation policy.

But the officer in charge of the hearing, Col. Denise Arn, in rejecting that request, made it clear that she wasn't going to allow the hearing to become a trial of whether top U.S. officials had encouraged abuse. She also barred testimony from Capt. Carolyn Wood, who supervised interrogations at Abu Ghraib, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq when the abuses occurred.

Hernandez repeatedly pressed Arthur and fellow investigator Special Agent Warren Worth about the involvement of military intelligence officers in the case. Both acknowledged England and other soldiers said military intelligence officers had told them they could "rough up" the detainees.

But "they never knew the name or who the person was," Arthur said.

Much of Tuesday's testimony was familiar, though the two Army investigators provided some new detail about the circumstances behind the abuse scandal's most graphic images.

Arthur said a photo of England holding a dog leash attached to a prone and naked Iraqi detainee came about after another member of the 372nd, Spc. Charles Graner, took a detainee "who had thoughts of killing coalition members" out of his cell, fastened the leash around his neck and asked England to pose. Arthur said the detainee wasn't dragged along the ground, although the photo seems to suggest it.

Worth said another well-known photo of a detainee cowering before a barking dog was snapped quickly when a dog handler was called to search the area after the detainee was suspected of chipping away at the bars of his cell to escape.

When the cell door opened, there was a brief melee. "The event didn't last more than 60 to 90 seconds," Worth said, adding that someone happened to be ready with a camera, almost as if the incident was anticipated.

In addition to three counts of abuse against Iraqi detainees and eight counts of misconduct related to posing for photographs and photographing Iraqi detainees, England faces five charges of indecent acts, two charges of failing to obey an order and one charge of conspiring with Graner to mistreat a detainee.

Tuesday's hearing was a preliminary step toward a general court-martial. If Arn and Fort Bragg's commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, agree that the evidence supports a trial, England could face a maximum of 38 years in a military prison.

Graner, 35; Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, 37; and Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26, have been recommended for general courts-martial. The next hearing in their cases is scheduled for Aug. 26 in Baghdad.


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