Dog Handler Found Guilty of Abu Ghraib Abuse
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. In a moment, the latest on the sentencing of al-Qaida conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. First, an army court martial has found guilty a soldier dog handler who was stationed at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Sergeant Michael J. Smith is guilty on six charges, in a verdict announced today. The Sergeant used his Belgian Shepherd guard dog to intimidate prisoners. Prosecutors argued that he scared the prisoners just for the fun of it. Josh White has been covering the trial for the Washington Post. Josh, what was the case against Sergeant Smith?
Mr. JOSH WHITE (Washington Post): Well, the argument has been really from the beginning that what Sergeant Smith and another dog handler did was just outside of any norms, any orders, any regulations for the prison. And that, very specifically, he was engaged in a contest to scare specific detainees sort of for the fun of it. Obviously, what his argument was against that was that he was ordered to do what he did, and that he was simply following the directions that the officers at the prison had set forward for him.
CHADWICK: He said that he was letting his dog bark at prisoners, and that's something he was supposed to do. What happened to that argument?
Mr. WHITE: Well, clearly, the jury didn't buy all of that argument. But they did really find him not guilty of a number of different charges. So, in these very particular circumstances--for example, one of the charges is dereliction of duty. Another maltreatment, another that he conspired to maltreat via this contest. The argument that he was following orders and that he was just scaring the detainees was effective, but the jury clearly found that his actions went beyond just simply being there as a show of force, that what he did violated military conduct and deserved to be punished. Now, what punishment we still don't know, because the sentencing phase hasn't happened yet
CHADWICK: So, you mentioned that there was some kind of contest going on. Who else was involved? I've read, I guess, that he and some other dog handler, I guess, were trying to see who could make prisoners soil themselves first by scaring them with these dogs?
Mr. WHITE: Correct. That's what the allegation is. There was another Sergeant, who actually faces another court martial that's scheduled to begin in May. And that they were allegedly taking their dogs around to some detainees and trying to scare them in order to get them to soil themselves. The argument, however, from the defense was that this was just something that was brought up casually as a joke. It wasn't actually happening. It wasn't something that anybody took seriously. There was testimony at the court martial that one soldier who reported that this was going on said that he actually took it fairly casually, and didn't report it initially because he didn't think it was abuse. He thought it was just them talking, just people talking. Clearly this jury panel felt that even that evidence was enough to convict.
CHADWICK: Sentencing scheduled for this afternoon, what might he get?
Mr. WHITE: Well, he can get as much as eight years, nine months. But he could also get as little as nothing, as we've seen in previous cases. Even in the case of a detainee dying, soldiers have been sentenced to restricted duty. And in the Abu Ghraib, some of the Abu Ghraib cases, we've seen sentences as high as ten years. So, it could fall anywhere in that range.
CHADWICK: Josh White of the Washington Post. Josh, thank you.
Mr. WHITE: You're very welcome.
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