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Hearing Begins for Soldier Accused in Abu Ghraib Scandal

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A military judge ruled Monday that statements by President Bush and top military leaders about alleged Abu Ghraib abuses do not appear specific enough to taint the jury pool for next month's trial of a reputed ringleader in the case.

But Col. James Pohl, the judge, said he might reconsider his ruling if it becomes clear that prospective jurors may have been influenced to the degree that Spc. Charles Graner may not get a fair trial.

Defense attorney Guy Womack tried to persuade Pohl that Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and high-ranking military officials proclaimed Graner guilty of abuses at Abu Ghraib and made it impossible to find an impartial jury.

But Womack conceded that the word "guilty" was never used in any of the statements in question.

Pohl also rejected a defense request that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former U.S. land forces commander in Iraq, be compelled to testify at Graner's trial.

Graner is among seven members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company accused of assaulting and humiliating male detainees at the Baghdad prison in late 2003. Charges against him include conspiracy to maltreat detainees, assault, committing indecent acts, obstruction of justice and adultery.