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US abuse trial begins for Abu Ghraib dog handler

Written by: Staff

FORT MEADE, Md., Mar 14 (Reuters) A US military dog handler charged with abusing detainees at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison was simply following orders, his lawyers said at the start of his court-martial.

Army Sgt. Michael Smith, 24, would face up to 24-1/2 years in prison if he is found guilty of using his dog to harass and threaten inmates at Abu Ghraib in order to make them urinate and defecate on themselves in 2003 and 2004.

Prosecutors said Smith took pleasure in forcing detainees to do what he called ''the doggie dance'' as they squirmed in terror.

''We contend that there is no soldier who would honestly and reasonably believe that such conduct was lawful or authorized,'' Maj. Matthew Miller said.

Disturbing photos of dogs barking and growling at inmates were seen around the world in the abuse scandal, which cut into Washington's efforts to win support for its war in Iraq.

Several photos of Smith with his dog and inmates will be introduced as evidence by prosecutors during the trial.

Other soldiers who worked alongside Smith have already been sentenced for up to 10 years for abusing inmates.

Smith's lawyers say he is unfairly lumped in with others on the night shift who physically abused detainees or allowed their dogs to bite them, and was acting at the request of interrogators and prison authorities.

''The government is going to ask you to take away the freedom of Sergeant Smith for defending all of our freedom.

What crime did he commit to deserve such a punishment? His military working dog barked at people,'' said Capt. John Duncan.

Smith is also charged with indecent acts for having his dog lick peanut butter off a male soldier's genitals and a female soldier's breasts.

The use of unmuzzled dogs to intimidate detainees is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Duncan said Smith and another soldier, Sgt. Santos Cardona, were brought to the prison to restore order following a riot in November 2003. Cardona is charged with allowing his dog to bite a detainee, and is scheduled to stand trial on May 22.

''The dogs were there to bark at detainees. They were there to scare people,'' Duncan said.

The former top military intelligence officer at the prison, Army Col. Thomas Pappas, is expected to testify this week. He has been reprimanded and fined for dereliction of duty in part for authorizing the use of dogs for interrogation without approval from senior commanders.

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who helped shape detention practices at Abu Ghraib, has invoked his right not to incriminate himself and is not expected to testify at Smith's trial.

Janis Karpinski, a former one-star Army Reserve general in charge of the prison, has accused Miller of introducing abusive techniques at Abu Ghraib.

Reuters SK VP0620

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