ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- The first court-martial in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal begins today.
The first defendant, Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits, faces a year in prison, a fine, reduction in pay and a bad conduct discharge. He has cooperated with authorities and is expected to testify against the others, who face more serious charges.
Three others -- Staff Sergeant Ivan Fredericks, Sergeant Javal Davis, and Specialist Charles Graner Jr. -- will be arraigned today before Sivits goes on trial. The arraignments and the Sivits trial will be open to media coverage. Nine Arab newspaper or broadcast journalists are among 34 news organizations to be allowed seats in the courtroom.
The US military hopes the presence in the Baghdad courtroom of such prominent Arab media as the Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television networks will demonstrate American resolve to determine who was responsible for the abuse and punish the guilty.
However, the US military has barred the broadcast of today's hearings on radio or television, and is prohibiting all recording devices and mobile phones from the courtroom.
Relatives of those still held at Abu Ghraib prison said yesterday the only suitable punishment would be death -- illustrating the potential gap in expectations in the case.
"If they actually committed such offenses, they should be executed," said Odai Ibrahim, 55, as he waited in a line with hundreds of other Iraqis to visit relatives at the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad -- notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam Hussein's regime.
Pictures of prisoners subjected to sexual humiliation and other brutality at the hands of American military police guards have generated a wave of international outrage and prompted some to question the Bush administration's commitment to bringing democracy to Iraq.
"We will learn all the facts and determine the full extent of these abuses," President Bush promised this month in a radio address. "Those involved will be identified. They will answer for their actions."
However, comments heard yesterday outside Abu Ghraib suggest the outcome may not satisfy Iraqi demands for justice, especially since the first defendant faces the least severe charges.
The charges against Sivits include taking a photograph of nude detainees, maltreating a detainee by escorting him to be "positioned in a pile on the floor to be assaulted by other soldiers," and failing to protect detainees from "abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment," according to the military charge sheet. He is expected to plead guilty today.
"Some of the people inside have spent two years in prison and they are innocent," Ibrahim said. "The maximum sentence for the Americans is one year. Is that justice?"
Sharhabil Abdul-Rahman, 41, said he and his brother were arrested by US soldiers during a raid of their Baghdad home in March. He was released, but his brother remains in custody.
"They should be tried by the Iraqis," he said of the accused. "According to Islamic law they should be executed."