U.S. military dog handlers face Abu Ghraib hearing


FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) – Two U.S. dog handlers in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison used unmuzzled dogs to threaten prisoners and competed to see who could make inmates urinate on themselves, according to testimony at a military hearing on Tuesday.

Sgt. Santos Cardona, 31, and Sgt. Michael Smith, 24, are suspected of intentionally scaring detainees at the infamous Baghdad prison between November 2003 and January 2004 during the height of the prison-abuse scandal.

Tuesday’s proceedings for the dog handlers at Fort Meade military base outside Washington were part of an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a pretrial hearing that determines whether the two sergeants face courts-martial.

Disturbing photos of dogs barking and growling at inmates were broadcast worldwide and became a focal point of the abuse scandal. In other trials, several U.S. soldiers have already been sentenced for abusing prisoners, with jail terms up to 10 years.

According to statements given to military investigators last year, U.S. intelligence personnel ordered military dog handlers to use unmuzzled dogs to intimidate detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Smith and Cardona told investigators that military intelligence personnel asked them to bring their dogs to prison interrogation sites. The use of unmuzzled dogs to humiliate and intimidate detainees is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Pvt. Ivan Frederick, convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, testified that Cardona and Smith were brought in to frighten prisoners. Frederick is serving an eight-year prison term at Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.

He said in one instance Cardona’s dog bit an inmate twice on the left and right thighs. The inmate was suspected of trying to escape the prison and had lunged at one of the guards, he said.

“He (Cardona) released his dog and it bit him on the left thigh area,” said Frederick.

He said the frightened detainee had tried to run out of the cell and the dog was set on him a second time.

Frederick said the military police dog handlers told him they were in a competition to see how many detainees they could scare into urinating and defecating on themselves.

“They were kind of laughing about it,” Frederick said.

Cardona’s civilian defense lawyer Harvey Volzer said Frederick was testifying in a bid to have his sentence reduced and cast doubt on his testimony.

Another witness, Spec. John Ketzer, also testified by telephone and said the dogs had been used to frighten two juvenile detainees.

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