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Allegations Against Dog Handlers Are Described

Times Staff Writer

Military dog handlers at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq engaged in a competition to see which one could make inmates defecate and urinate on themselves, witnesses testified Tuesday at a preliminary hearing for two soldiers.

Army Sgts. Michael J. Smith, 24, and Santos A. Cardona, 31, are accused of using unmuzzled dogs to frighten prisoners. One inmate was bitten by a dog, according to the testimony.

Witnesses against the dog handlers included two soldiers previously convicted of abusing prisoners at the American-run military prison near Baghdad. Defense lawyers challenged their testimony and said they were trying to reduce their own sentences in exchange for their cooperation in the dog case.

Pvt. Ivan L. Frederick, who is serving an 8-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., testified via telephone that a dog handled by Cardona bit a prisoner on both thighs. His account was corroborated by another convicted soldier, Pvt. Sabrina Harman.

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The inmate, Frederick said, was suspected of hiding weapons in his cell and had tried to attack another soldier who had entered his cell.

Frederick also said the defendants talked about a “game” to see “who could get the most detainees to urinate on themselves using the dogs.” Frederick said they were “laughing about it.”

According to Army charge sheets, they are accused of maltreating detainees from Nov. 15, 2003, to Jan. 15, 2004 by “directing, encouraging, or permitting [their] unmuzzled military working dog[s] to bark and growl at detainees in order to unlawfully harass and threaten the detainees and in order to make the detainees urinate or defecate on themselves.”

Cardona, of Fullerton, with the 42nd Military Police Detachment in Ft. Bragg, N.C., has been charged with nine counts. Smith, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the 523rd Military Police Detachment in Ft. Riley, Kan., has been charged with 14 counts.

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If convicted, Smith faces up to 29 1/2 years in a military brig, a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. Cardona faces 16 1/2 years in jail and the same other penalties.

Spc. John Ketzer, an interrogator at the Iraqi prison, testified by phone that a dog was used to frighten two juvenile detainees, described as about 10 and 14 years old, who screamed in fear. Ketzer could not identify the dog handler by name but provided a description.

One of the counts against Smith accuses him of “an assault upon two juvenile detainees by unlawfully threatening them with a means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.”

In addition to Cardona and Smith, there were three Navy dog handlers assigned to Abu Ghraib.

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Defense lawyers raised the possibility of mistaken identity, suggesting that witnesses might have confused the defendants with other dog handlers.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Aston, who oversaw a team of five interrogators at Abu Ghraib, said in phone testimony that on the night that Saddam Hussein was captured, his interrogators asked for the presence of military working dogs for one of three detainees who had arrived. It was unclear from the testimony whether the detainee was connected with Hussein’s capture.

Aston said he asked Col. Thomas M. Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at Abu Ghraib, for permission to use dogs. Aston said Pappas gave him permission but said that the dogs, when inside the interrogation booth, had to be muzzled. He went over these ground rules with Cardona and Smith, Aston said.

That night, one dog was unmuzzled but did not enter the interrogation booth; it remained outside, by the door, close enough to “surprise and shock” the detainee, Aston said.

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Harvey Volzer, a Washington lawyer representing Cardona, said his client and Smith were following orders from higher-ranking officers.

“You know it happened,” Volzer said, referring to the fact that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then the top ground commander in Iraq, knew and approved of the use of dogs in the Iraqi prison.

Volzer said he planned to call one or two witnesses today, including Maj. David DiNenna Sr., who could show the “approval chain” in the military.

Soon after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke and photographs showed the use of muzzled dogs to menace prisoners, Sanchez ordered that interrogators no longer expose prisoners to military dogs.

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The Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and that the accused is responsible. The presiding officer, Maj. Glenn Simpkins of Ft. Myer, Va., will determine if the case should be referred to a general court-martial.


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