BAGHDAD, Iraq – Lawyers for two defendants in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal won the right Monday to question top U.S. generals to bolster arguments their clients were following lawful orders in their treatment of inmates.
The order, issued by a military judge at pretrial hearings, compels Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, to give depositions.
The defense will also have access to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and now runs U.S. detention facilities in Iraq. Others who could be questioned include Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, chief of coalition intelligence operations.
Questioning senior officers who run the Iraq war could shed light on interrogation techniques and help determine how far responsibility for the abuse extends up the chain of command.
However, the military judge, Col. James Pohl, rejected motions by counsel for Sgt. Javal S. Davis and Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. to compel testimony from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Pohl also ruled out moving the trial to the United States or Germany, but said he might reconsider if conditions in Iraq warranted by the time trial begins. A civilian attorney, Guy Womack, said the trial was unlikely to start until October.
The judge declared Abu Ghraib a crime scene that should not be destroyed. President Bush had offered to tear down the prison to remove the stain of abuse, but Iraqi authorities have shown no interest.
Seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, a reserve unit from Cresaptown, Md., have been charged in the scandal. Civilian defense attorneys have contended the MPs were acting on instructions from military intelligence officers and civilian contract interrogators.
“No one can suggest with a straight face that these MPs were acting alone,” Womack told reporters. “They were directly under the supervision and the direction of military intelligence officers.”
Womack, Graner’s civilian lawyer, said he could prove the MP and military intelligence commanders “were aware of everything that was being done.”
A third defendant – Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II – also appeared in court Monday but his hearing was postponed until July 23 because his civilian lawyer, Gary Myers, refused to travel to Baghdad. None of the three has entered a plea.
On May 19, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge. The three other defendants face more serious charges.
A hearing for another soldier charged in the scandal, Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, was postponed until July 12 at Fort Bragg, N.C., where she is now stationed. The military has not decided whether to refer the cases against two others – Spc. Sabrina Harman and Pfc. Megan Ambuhl – to courts-martial.