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Judge criticizes prosecution's pace; soldier to plead guilty to some charges

MANNHEIM, Germany—A military judge who's hearing cases of alleged abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison on Monday ordered prosecutors to speed up their work.

Also, relatives said Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick would plead guilty Tuesday to some of the charges against him relating to the scandal.

"We were expecting this to happen, because at the beginning we said he was willing to take his licks for anything that he had done, and that time has now come," said Bill Lawson, Frederick's uncle.

"He also says the people who were responsible for putting this program together should come forward and take their licks too," Lawson added, referring to the military intelligence officers who allegedly ordered Frederick and the other defendants to "soften up" detainees for questioning.

At a hearing, Col. James Pohl criticized the slow pace at which the United States is releasing information on abuse at the prison to the defense and cautioned that he may be willing to temporarily dismiss all charges against Spc. Charles Graner Jr., who's accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, if significant progress hasn't been made by Oct. 21, when the next hearing is scheduled in Baghdad.

"This case has been moving very slowly," Pohl said. "If it was a priority, they'd have it done."

Military prosecutors agreed with the judges' assessment, saying they'd been pushing for results from four investigations into the prison abuses, but with little to show for their efforts other than unanswered e-mails and phone calls.

They said that in one of the investigations, a single researcher is going through hundreds of thousands of documents on a secret Internet server at the Iraqi prison to see whether any of them have a connection to the abuse cases. They estimated that without help, the investigator would finish in December.

Also at Monday's hearing, lawyers for Graner lost a series of motions.

Lead prosecutor Maj. Michael Holly questioned two criminal investigators who talked to Graner on Jan. 14, the day they began their investigation and the day after they received a compact disc from a concerned soldier containing photos of alleged abuse.

They said that after Graner initially agreed to allow them to search his body and living quarters, he later said they couldn't examine his computer, where they found hundreds of photos, some of which already had been erased. The judge ruled that the information was gathered properly and may be used in the case.

Graner has been charged with 12 counts of violating military laws, including adultery for allegedly impregnating co-defendant Pfc. Lynndie England. The other charges involve prisoner abuse, including four counts of cruelty and maltreatment. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 24 years in military prison, stripped of his rank and dishonorably discharged.

Graner's lawyers sought to show that the smiling face behind their client's thick glasses in the infamous Abu Ghraib prisoner-pile photo isn't that of a monster, but a stressed-out, exhausted patriot who was trying to follow orders and serve his country.

Speaking publicly for one of the first times since the photos surfaced, Graner said that when he was awakened Jan. 14 at 3 a.m.—an hour after he'd gone to bed—and read his rights, he knew he was in trouble.

Answering prosecution questions, the former civilian prison guard said he was sleepy that morning, but that he'd been living on three hours' sleep a night for months and was used to little sleep, and that he hadn't been denied any basic human necessities.

He said the interview took place after a day in which he'd been on the streets of Baghdad with a convoy, working from 5 a.m. until after 10 p.m., and unable to sleep until 2 a.m. He said that after more than half a year of dangerous work in Iraq, and having seen two of his friends injured, he was stressed.

His attorneys said Graner, who scored exceptionally high on a military intelligence test, questioned orders to "make sure that prisoner has a difficult night," but carried them out because he was assured they were legal.

His lawyers also questioned whether he can get a fair trial.

"The president of the United States—the commander in chief—as well as the secretary of defense have stated publicly that he is guilty and deserves extreme punishment," civilian attorney Guy Womack said in a news conference after the hearing. "It is inconceivable that any potential juror will not have heard that. ... How can that not intimidate a military officer?"


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