|Subject: Iraq abuse: U.S. soldier sentenced
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Date Posted: 14:35:51 09/11/04 Sat
Iraq abuse: U.S. soldier sentenced
Saturday, September 11, 2004 Posted: 1109 GMT (1909 HKT)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier has been sentenced to eight months' confinement in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, demoted to a private and given a bad conduct discharge.
Army Spec. Armin Cruz is the first military intelligence operative charged in connection with the abuse scandal. He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and maltreatment of prisoners.
He entered into a plea bargain in which he agreed to testify for the prosecution against at least four or five others in exchange for immunity from his testimony.
The judge on Saturday asked Cruz to explain why he forced the detainees to strip naked, and Cruz said, after a long pause, that he associated the prisoners with Iraqis who killed two members of his company one month earlier.
He said he was told by military police soldiers that the detainees were suspected of raping a 15-year-old.
Cruz admitted to handcuffing the detainees and forcing them to crawl on the ground. He also said he was aware he was abusing them at the time.
Explaining his decision to plead guilty, Cruz told the judge he was acting independent of higher authorities.
His attorney's played a tape from Cruz's father saying his son is a good person and that he chose to serve his country by enlisting to become a soldier.
Cruz's father said what happened was tragic but his son is taking responsibility and he hopes the judge will consider this when he issues his sentence.
Cruz's fellow battalion members also spoke to the court on his behalf, saying they would serve with him again.
Earlier this week, Cruz's lawyer issued a statement saying, "He is extremely remorseful ... and he apologizes to the people of Iraq."
The Army announced Thursday that Cruz will go before a special court-martial on Saturday. His is the second guilty plea in the prison scandal.
Attorney Steve Karns of Dallas said, "He takes full responsibility and in doing so, accepts whatever punishment the court will deem appropriate."
Both the Fay Report at the Pentagon and testimony in another Abu Ghraib case have identified Cruz as taking part in the abuse of three prisoners who were being questioned about the rape of a teenage boy.
Cruz, from Plano, Texas, was an intelligence analyst with the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion assigned to help question possible insurgents and terrorists held at Abu Ghraib, although the Fay Report said these prisoners "were not of intelligence interest."
He was present, along with an interrogator, Spec. Roman Krol, and another analyst, Spec. Israel Rivera, on the night of October 25 last year when the three rape suspects were brought into the high-security cell block at the prison.
Rivera testified in another military hearing a month ago the three men were brought out of their cells naked, made to crawl on their stomachs on the hard floor, then "were put together in a big bundle of bodies and they were handcuffed together. They were made to look like they were having sex."
Rivera said Cruz and some of the prison guards used their feet to press down on the buttocks of the men to simulate the appearance of a male sexual embrace.
The Fay report said Cruz joined in the abuse with Staff Sgt. Ivan (Chip) Frederick and Cpl. Charles Graner, both of whom already are facing courts-martial.
"All three made the detainees act as though they were having sex," the Fay report said.
Frederick, the ranking enlisted man on the night shift in the cell block, is scheduled to enter his guilty plea on October 20. He will be the third man to plead guilty. Graner is one of five other military police soldiers still facing pending charges.
Neither Krol nor Rivera, the other two military intelligence operatives present, has been charged, although Krol has told CNN he does expect he will face some form of punishment eventually, for not reporting what he saw.
Lawyers for several of the MP guards already charged with the abuse have contended they were acting on military intelligence orders. The Fay report, however, said, "This incident was most likely orchestrated by MP personnel," and it went on to name Graner and Frederick, among others.
This is the only instance of physical abuse in the cell block at Abu Ghraib where military intelligence members are said to have been present and participants in what happened.
Cruz can be seen standing to the right of the tangle of bodies in one of the Abu Ghraib photos. Also in that picture are Krol, a civilian intelligence interpreter and two MP guards, including Graner.
Krol has identified Cruz in the photo in an interview on CNN's Paula Zahn Now. The Fay report used a code number for Cruz, but Krol also identified that person as Cruz, and the Fay account matches Rivera's testimony, which named Cruz in open court.
The Dallas attorney, Karns, said Cruz had earned the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before this incident.
The first Abu Ghraib soldier to plead guilty was another guard, Pvt. Jeremy Sivits, who was sentenced to a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge in May.
Still awaiting courts-martial, along with Graner, are Sgt. Javal Davis, Spec. Sabrina Harman, and Spec. Megan Ambuhl.
Pfc. Lynndie England also is charged, and is awaiting a decision on whether she, too, will be ordered before a court-martial.
The Fay report said England and Harman also took part in the abuse of the rape suspects, along with Graner, Frederick and the three intelligence soldiers.
Rivera testified about what he saw Cruz do at a preliminary hearing in military court for England at Fort Bragg on August 5.
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