The soldier labelled the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal started a 10-year prison sentence today, following his conviction by a military jury.
Photographs of US Army Specialist Charles Graner sexually humiliating and attacking prisoners at the prison near Baghdad shocked the world last year. He was found guilty of abusing detainees by a court martial at Fort Hood, Texas, on Friday night, and sentenced last night.
Graner, 36, who was described as the leader of a band of rogue guards at the prison in late 2003, was the first soldier to be tried on charges arising from the scandal.
He was also demoted to private by the court and ordered to forfeit all pay and benefits.
When his prison sentence is completed, he will be dishonourably discharged.
Graner claimed he was simply following orders, but the jury found differently after the four and a half-day trial.
Prosecutors depicted the reservist as a sadistic soldier who took great pleasure in seeing detainees suffer.
He was accused of stacking naked prisoners in a human pyramid and later ordering them to masturbate while other soldiers took photographs.
He also allegedly punched one man in the head hard enough to knock him out and struck an injured prisoner with a collapsible metal stick.
The photos showed naked detainees posed in sexual positions, hooked to electrodes and tethered to a leash.
Graner, from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was convicted of conspiracy, assault, maltreating prisoners, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts.
In his closing argument, Captain Chris Graveline, prosecuting, said: “It was for sport, for laughs. What we have here is plain abuse. There is no justification.”
Graner’s lawyer, Guy Womack, argued that his client and other Abu Ghraib guards were under extreme pressure from intelligence agents to use physical violence to prepare detainees for questioning.
Graner did not testify during his trial, but during yesterday’s sentencing phase he took the witness stand to say he initially resisted pressure to mistreat prisoners, but his Army superiors made it clear to him that he was expected to obey the commands of the military and civilian intelligence agents who ran his part of Abu Ghraib.
He concluded by saying: “I didn’t enjoy what I did there. … A lot of it was wrong, a lot of it was criminal.”
Under military court rules, Graner’s case will be automatically appealed to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Four soldiers have pleaded guilty in the case. Two other guards from the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit from Cresaptown, Maryland, are awaiting trial, along with Pfc Lynndie England, a clerk at Abu Ghraib who gave birth to a baby in October believed to be fathered by Graner.
England, a 21-year-old reservist from Fort Ashby, West Virginia, faces court martial this month charged with abusing detainees and committing indecent acts.
She faces a prison sentence of up to 38 years, a dishonourable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances if convicted.
Asked if he felt remorse after his sentence was handed down, Graner said, “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.”
Graner, who had been free before his trial, was taken into custody after the sentence was read. He hugged his mother, Irma, and gave his father, Charles, a firm handshake before the jury foreman read the sentence.
“He’s scared to death,” Mrs Graner said later.