Harman Convicted for Role in Abu Ghraib Abuse
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On the same day that Newsweek magazine retracted a story about the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a military court sent a message about mistreatment that it could prove. Last night, a military jury passed judgment against Army Specialist Sabrina Harman. She was in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and she was found guilty on six out of seven charges: conspiracy, maltreating prisoners and dereliction of duty. NPR's John McChesney reports.
JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:
Sabrina Harman doesn't rank high amongst the seven soldiers so far charged in the prison scandal, either in military terms or in public recognition. Private Charles Graner and PFC Lynndie England have garnered most of the attention. Harman appeared in one of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos, crouched behind a human pyramid, smiling, giving a thumbs up with Private Graner, arms folded behind her. And she took many of the notorious photos herself. But in spite of a spirited defense by her civilian lawyer Frank Spinner, she escaped few charges.
Captain Colin Shepherd is spokesman for the Ft. Hood military judiciary.
Captain COLIN SHEPHERD: She's found not guilty of the masturbation incident of photographing or videotaping detainees who were ordered to strip naked and masturbate.
McCHESNEY: She also was found not guilty of engineering one of Abu Ghraib's most shocking acts, wiring a hooded prisoner standing on a box and telling him if he fell off, he would be electrocuted. But she was found guilty of dereliction of duty on seven of the nine acts that were part of the charge. Dereliction here means that she didn't try to stop abuse of detainees or report the maltreatment she witnessed. Defense attorney Frank Spinner countered that other witnesses to the abuse didn't report it either and if they did, nothing was done about it. And in a dramatic twist, Spinner introduced into evidence a letter Harman had written to her girlfriend, Kelly Bryant, just five days before the first incident of abuse she was charged with. In a letter Harman said, `These people are going too far. I can't handle what's going on. The only reason I want to be there is to get the pictures to prove that the US is not what they think.'
But in closing statements, prosecutor Captain Chris Graveline said Harman had ample opportunity to give her photos to someone who might investigate and didn't. Defense attorney Spinner pointed out that at least two others who witnessed the abuse or had seen the pictures felt physically threatened by Private Graner and others and so remained anonymous or silent. Spinner said that the 26-year-old had been transported in six months from a Papa John's pizzamaker to become a guard for dangerous terrorists without any training or written guidance about detainee treatment. `Shame on the Army,' Spinner said. `When the 372nd Military Police Company got there,' he said, `many abusive practices like male nudity in front of women and forcing detainees to wear women's panties on their heads were already in place. How was novice Harman to make distinctions?' he asked.
One government witness said that Harman should have been a relief worker rather than a soldier, because of her successful work with Iraqi children in the village where her unit was deployed prior to Abu Ghraib. But the jury wasn't buying any exculpatory character testimony or the idea that others hadn't reported the abuse. Captain Graveline delivered a succint rebuttal to that argument. `Collective responsibility,' he said, `doesn't dilute personal responsibility.' As to Harman's letter to her girlfriend, they said, `We have no idea what incident she was talking about in that letter.'
Harman will be sentenced today in a separate proceeding. She now faces a maximum sentence of five and a half years in prison. John McChesney, NPR News, Ft. Hood, Texas.