Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr., the reputed ringleader of a band of rogue guards at the Abu Ghraib prison, was convicted Friday of abusing Iraqi detainees in a case that sparked international outrage when photographs were released that showed reservists gleefully torturing prisoners.
Graner, the first soldier to be tried on charges arising from the scandal, was convicted of all five charges and faces up to 17 1/2 years behind bars.
The jury took less than five hours to reach the verdict.
The verdict came after a five-day trial in which prosecutors depicted Graner 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 jury of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men rejected the defense argument that Graner and other guards were merely following orders from intelligence agents at Abu Ghraib when they roughed up the detainees.
Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from Uniontown, Pa., was convicted of conspiracy, assault, maltreating prisoners, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts.
Each count required that at least seven of the 10 jurors to agree for conviction.
The panel of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men began their deliberations at late morning.
"It was for sport, for laughs," Graveline told jurors. "What we have here is plain abuse. There is no justification."
Defense lawyer Guy Womack countered that his client and other Abu Ghraib guards were under extreme pressure from intelligence agents to use physical violence to prepare detainees for questioning.
"It was a persistent, consistent set of orders," said Womack. "To soften up the detainees, to do things so we can interrogate them successfully in support of our mission. ... We had men and women being killed."
Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from Uniontown, Pa., is the first soldier to be tried on charges arising from the prison scandal. He is charged with conspiracy, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts and could get 17½ years in a military prison.
Womack reminded jurors that Saddam Hussein was not yet in U.S. custody when the alleged abuse happened.
"There was somebody very important on everybody's mind," he said. "Wouldn't it be logical to have your interrogators use pressure to get information to try to find him?"
Womack described the notorious photos taken inside the prison as "gallows humor" arising from unrelenting stress felt by the Abu Ghraib guards.
He also tried to plant the seed that Graner and the other low-level guards were being used in a cover-up to protect Army officers once those photos went public.
Among other things, Graner is accused of stacking naked detainees 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.
Graner did not testify during the four-day trial, which included testimony from three guards who had made plea deals with prosecutors.
Two other guards are awaiting trial, along with Pfc. Lynndie England, a clerk at Abu Ghraib who last fall gave birth to a baby believed to be fathered by Graner.
Womack said Thursday that there was no need for Graner to tell his version of what went on inside the prison because his other witnesses were so effective in making the case.
The final two witnesses testified that intelligence officers wanted detainees roughed up, and that they praised guards for their performance.
Graveline used some of Graner's own e-mails as evidence of how much he enjoyed the pain he inflicted on detainees. In one e-mail, he described beating on prisoners as "a good upper-body workout, but hard on the hands."
The e-mail messages were given to jurors Tuesday. The New York Times, which said it got them from a person close to the defense, reported that they were sent to Graner's family and friends, including his young children.
"The guys give me hell for not getting any pictures while I was fighting this guy," said the message with the photograph of the howling detainee, according to the Times.
A photo of him stitching a detainee's wound had the note, "Things may have gotten a bit bad when we were asking him a couple of questions. O well," and a message with a similar photo read, "Not only was I the healer, I was the hurter. O well life goes on," the Times reported.
In his presentation, Graveline cited an earlier comment by Womack, who sought to play down the pyramid incident by saying that cheerleaders build pyramids every day.
The prosecution said that might be a valid comparison if the cheerleaders were stripped naked and roughed up first.