FORT HOOD, Texas - Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr. was sentenced to 10 years behind bars Saturday for physically and sexually mistreating Iraqis in the first court-martial stemming from at Abu Ghraib prison scandal, an embarrassment to the U.S. military fueled by the release of graphic photographs.
Asked if he felt remorse after the sentence was handed down, Graner said, “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.”
Graner, labeled the leader of a band of rogue guards at the Baghdad prison in late 2003, will be dishonorably discharged when his sentence is completed. He also was demoted to private and ordered to forfeit all pay and benefits.
A day after convicting him, the jury of four Army officers and six senior enlisted men deliberated about two hours to determine Graner’s sentence. He could have received 15 years.
Graner, who had been free prior to trial, was taken into custody after the sentence was read. He gave his mother, Irma, a big hug and his father, Charles Sr., a firm handshake before the jury foreman read the sentence.
“He’s scared to death,” Irma Graner said later.
Graner 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.
Defense lawyer Guy Womack said his client and the six other Abu Ghraib guards charged with abuses were being scapegoated, but added that he thought the jury did its job well.
“I firmly believe there should have been reasonable doubt, but we respect their decision,” he said outside the courthouse. He added that he had feared Graner could have received a harsher sentence than the 10-year term.
Under military court rules, Graner’s case will be automatically appealed to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He also could request clemency from his commanding general.
Graner did not testify during his trial, but during the sentencing phase Saturday he took the witness stand to repeat the defense claim that the jury clearly rejected: that he had been ordered by intelligence agents at Abu Ghraib to abuse the prisoners to make them easier to interrogate.
His attorney, Guy Womack, asked him why he was smiling in the infamous photos, some of which were shown while Graner spoke.
“I’m smiling now, and that’s a nervous smile,” Graner said.
Graner described himself as a by-the-book prison guard corrupted by superiors who ordered him to physically mistreat and sexually humiliate detainees.
He said 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.
Graner said a lieutenant in his unit told him: “If (military intelligence) asks you to do this, it needs to be done. They’re in charge, follow their orders.”
He said he now knows that those orders were unlawful, but “at the time my understanding is that they were (lawful), or I wouldn’t have done them,” he said.
Graner, a 36-year-old reservist from Uniontown, Pa., spoke for nearly three hours as an “unsworn statement,” meaning he was not subject to cross-examination by prosecutors. He did not testify during his trial.
He concluded by saying: “I didn’t enjoy what I did there. ... A lot of it was wrong, a lot of it was criminal.”
Maj. Michael Holley, one of the prosecutors, said in his final statement that Graner was a disgrace to the military and urged the 10 jurors to send him to prison for the maximum sentence.
“The time for Specialist Graner to be responsible for his actions is finally here,” Holley said.
Graner faced 10 counts under five separate charges: Assault, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts and dereliction of duty. He was found guilty on all counts, except that one assault count was downgraded to battery.
Four soldiers have pleaded guilty in the case. Two other guards from the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit from Cresaptown, Md., 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.
Throughout Graner’s 4½-day trial, prosecutors depicted him as a sadist who took great pleasure in seeing detainees suffer.
“It was for sport, for laughs,” prosecutor Capt. Chris Graveline told jurors in his closing argument Friday. “What we have here is plain abuse. There is no justification.”
Iraqi detainee Hussein Mutar, in videotaped testimony shown as the sentencing phase began Friday evening, said he had supported the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein until he was abused.
“The Americans came to free the Iraqi people from Saddam,” Mutar said. “I didn’t expect this to happen. This instance changed the entire picture of the American people (for me).”
Graner’s mother, Irma Graner, testifying in the sentencing phase, described him as a kind and gentle man who faithfully served his country.
“He is not the monster he’s made out to be,” she said quietly. “In my eyes he’ll always be a hero.”
The shocking photos of reservists abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners were first broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes II” in April.
A month later, President Bush urged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make sure that any guilty U.S. soldiers be punished for “shameful and appalling acts.”