Harman found guilty for Abu Ghraib
By Spc. L.B. Edgar
May 19, 2005
FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, May 19, 2005) -- The ninth Soldier to face court-martial for abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib was sentenced May 17 at Fort Hood’s Lawrence H. Williams Judicial Center to six months in a military prison.
Army Reserve Spc. Sabrina Harman, 372nd Military Police Company, was also reduced in rank to private, will forfeit all pay and allowances, and will receive a bad conduct discharge.
A military panel, consisting of four officers and four enlisted Soldiers, convicted Harman May 16 of three charges: conspiracy, dereliction of duty and maltreatment of subordinates.
In the trial's opening statement, prosecutor Capt. Chuck Neill, Staff Judge Advocate’s Office, III Corps, emphasized the importance photographs of the abuse would play in the prosecution’s case.
“A photograph accurately captures a moment in time,” Neill said.
Neill also showed the panel two of the nearly 30 photographs he anticipated would be entered as evidence.
One depicted Harman and convicted Pvt. Charles Graner, 372nd MP Co., the alleged ringleader of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, posing with the now infamous “human pyramid.”
The prosecution alleged that the other photograph of Graner ready to strike a defenseless detainee was taken by Harman.
“This was Soldiers laughing, joking, having fun at the expense of the detainees,” Neill said.
The defense followed with its opening statement presented by Frank Spinner, of Colorado, Harman’s civilian attorney.
With his first words, Spinner immediately tried to counter the prosecution’s argument. “This case is about a lot more than some still photos taken at Abu Ghraib,” he said.
In the defense’s opening statement, Spinner minimized the role Harman played in the scandal. He said Harman was not only the lowest ranking Soldier at Tier 1A, where the abuse occurred, but the Reservist was only promoted from Private (E-1) to Specialist (E-4) because the work she performed was beyond her rank.
Spinner told the panel that he conceded his client took some of the photographs, but said whether taking photographs of abuse constituted maltreatment was debatable.
A deposition from one Iraqi detainee, who was part of the notorious naked human pyramid photograph, was read to the military panel by the prosecution.
He said, “I saw the lady with the camera,” in reference to Harman.
A criminal investigator testified that there were no records of interrogation for the seven detainees who were forced into the human pyramid.
An expert in computer forensics demonstrated a timeline detailing when the 281 pictures taken by five cameras were most likely shot as well as when the video footage was likely recorded.
According to the testimony of one former Military Intelligence Soldier, who was convicted of abusing detainees -- and one current MI Soldier, who reported the abuse -- Harman, along with others, directed naked detainees to crawl, roll on the floor, and exercise.
They also said on a separate occasion, she handcuffed and screamed at three detainees. Another prosecution witness, former Sgt. Robert Jones II, 372nd MP Co., said Harman denied taking pictures of the detainee abuse when he asked her about it at Abu Ghraib.
According to the prosecution’s opening statement, Harman attached wires to a detainee dubbed "Gilligan" and told him that if he fell off of an MRE (meals ready to eat) box he would be electrocuted.
The alleged maltreatment was captured in a photograph entered by the prosecution as evidence.
Prosecution witness Pvt. Ivan Frederick II, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence as part of a plea bargain in the Abu Ghraib abuse, contradicted part of the trial counsel's statement.
He said that Harman did not attach wires to a detainee, contradicting Harman’s voluntary sworn written statement to Army investigators in 2004.
The treatment of that prisoner was a means of sleep deprivation prompted by a request from an Abu Ghraib interrogator, Frederick said.
Frederick did corroborate the prosecution’s claim that Harman wrote “Rapeist” (sic) on the leg of a detainee. But, he could not place Harman at the scene of another incident of detainee abuse.
The defense introduced a letter into evidence during the court-martial that was sent from Harman to her roommate around the time of the alleged incidents.
The letter was admitted into evidence to show Harman’s state of mind. However, first the letter was redacted, meaning certain portions were withheld from the panel.
In order to read and authenticate the letter, Harman’s civilian roommate took the stand. The letter stated that Harman photographed the incidents to document the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
“I took more pictures now to ‘Record’ (sic) what is going on,” Harman wrote in the letter postmarked Nov. 1, 2003.
But, it was pointed out Harman never turned over any photographs to Army investigators after the abuse first became public or at any other time.
Another defense witness was former Army Reserve Spc. Megan Ambuhl, 372nd MP Co., who had previously pleaded guilty to participating in abuse at Abu Ghraib.
According to her testimony, she and Harman went to use the phone during one alleged incident of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. Ambuhl also denied seeing Harman photograph detainees being maltreated.
On cross examination she admitted she (Ambuhl) was capable of lying when necessary and did not want to see her “friend” punished.
A former non-commissioned officer, who served with the 372nd MP Co. at Abu Ghraib, testified that Harman was not involved in one of the alleged incidents of maltreatment.
This testimony directly contradicted the claims of two prosecution witnesses, who previously testified Harman handcuffed and yelled at detainees as well as directed them to roll, crawl and perform calisthenics.
The panel also heard testimony from Harman's former commander, Capt. Donald Reese, 372nd MP Co. He testified that Harman’s combat support unit lacked the internment resettlement training to competently work in the environment of Abu Ghraib
“We were stretched very thin,” he said.
Capt. Chris Graveline, Staff Judge Advocate’s Office, III Corps, challenged the panel to decide Harman's fate in the trial's closing arguments.
“You (panel) will decide if there is anything wrong with the human pyramid,” he said. “These are crimes and the accused committed them. She did not report the abuse or stop the abuse. She was laughing. She was taking photographs."
On the other side, the defense argued that circumstances, not Harman, were to blame for the incidents at Abu Ghraib.
“The people who worked in Tier 1A and 1B came into an environment where they were desensitized from the moment they came in,” Spinner said.
In addition, Spinner pointed to a complete lack of proper training and command policy to regulate the environment Harman was immersed in at Abu Ghraib.
“These Soldiers weren’t trained whether that was abusive or not,” he explained. “There was no written guideline.”
After the panel convicted Harman of all of the charges, the sentencing phase began immediately afterward.
The prosecution wanted a sentence of three years and asked the panel to consider the crime, victims and impact.
“These were attacks on the spirit,” Neill said. “These were human beings and the effect on them was immeasurable.”
After the trial counsel rested, an emotional Harman addressed the panel and read from a written statement.
"I not only let down the people in Iraq, but I let down every single Soldier that serves today,” Harman said.
An expert in sociology, who testified at an earlier Abu Ghraib court-martial, also testified on Harman's behalf. He subscribed to the defense’s theory that the environment of Abu Ghraib was a contributing factor to the abuse of the Iraqi detainees by guards, including Harman.
Harman’s defense also countered the prosecution's arguments by trying to show Harman in a more positive light.
They presented the panel with an array of photographs of the Soldier posing with Iraqi children while deployed in Hillah prior to working as a guard at Abu Ghraib.
“At this point, we ask for mercy,” Capt. Patsy Takemura, 22nd Legal Services Organization, Harman’s military defense attorney, said to the panel. “We ask you not to give her any confinement.”
After Harman's sentence was announced by the panel, which included two female and six male Soldiers, she was silently lead away in shackles.
In a hearing on a defense motion May 14, Military Judge James Pohl, V Corps, credited Harman with 51 days of time served for her work detail in Iraq, while waiting for her court-martial.
An Article 32 hearing may be held as early as next week to determine what charges Pfc. Lynndie England, 372nd MP Co., may face.
England’s first court-martial was declared a mistrial May 4, when testimony by Graner contradicted her guilty plea.
(Editor’s note: Spc. L.B. Edgar writes for the Fort Hood Sentinel newspaper.)
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