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U.S. investigation of prison abuse moving too slowly, judge says

MANNHEIM, Germany—The military judge presiding over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse hearings on Tuesday expressed continued exasperation at the slow pace of the U.S. government investigation and said he would soon consider granting immunity to three military intelligence officers to compel them to testify in order to ensure fair trials for those charged.

"Quite frankly, this goes to the core of a lot that's wrong in these cases," Col. James Pohl, the judge, said. "The government has until September 17th to show cause as to why I shouldn't grant immunity."

Prosecutors argued that granting immunity to the officers, whose testimony could otherwise be used against them, would complicate any eventual case against the three men.

Meanwhile, soldiers charged in the case broke ranks, with one accepting a plea bargain and another maintaining his innocence and blaming higher authorities. Attorneys for both men blamed the atmosphere at the prison, which preceded the arrival of their clients, for the behavior that followed.

Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, through his attorney, said he was ready to accept responsibility and announced that he would plead guilty to some of the 12 counts against him.

Frederick "has, unlike many others, accepted responsibility for his corrupt behavior generated by the circumstances at the Abu Ghraib prison," said his attorney, Gary Myers.

However, Sgt. Javal Davis' attorney, Paul Bergrin, said the events at the prison, while distasteful to a civilian world, are no more than an ugly but necessary sidelight of war. He said no enlisted person should be held responsible for what happened at the Iraqi prison.

"Sgt. Javal Davis was working to get information to save the lives of American soldiers," Bergrin said. "If the United States government believes that the actions of Javal Davis are illegal, then those at even the highest levels of government should be tried and standing charged next to him."

The next phase for each of the cases will come in October in Baghdad.

Myers said Frederick has an agreement under which he would admit to some crimes on Oct. 20 and be found not guilty of others. Myers wouldn't discuss any of the specifics or whether Frederick would testify against the others charged because the agreement is subject to final approval.

"He could not in good conscience continue a plea of not guilty for certain acts," Myers said as he stood next to Frederick, who was dressed in desert camouflage. Later, he continued: "This is a tremendously depressing experience for a man who has spent 20 years serving his country. It is an honest, dignified thing he has done, and it took courage."

He went on to describe the prison setting as animalistic, with men wearing women's underwear on their heads, people being handcuffed to cell bars, and ghost detainees whom no one was supposed to acknowledge existing before his client arrived.

Bergrin admitted that Davis jumped on and hit detainees while working at the prison. He said that on Jan. 14, the day the investigation began, a very tired Davis gave a sworn statement in which he denied involvement but blamed others for the mistreatment. But Bergrin pointed out that the next day, when rested, Davis returned and amended his statement to admit and explain his involvement.

Bergrin said an official government memo said that detainees "must be broken." He said official policy in Guantanamo Bay, where interrogators were encouraged to use fear, humiliation through nudity, some physical contact and dogs, among other tactics, was adopted as official policy in Iraq.

"The need for accurate intelligence increased as the insurgency increased," he said. Later, he added, "They needed to know when the next attack would come. ... Sometimes, at war, you do things that are not right or moral."


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