Verdict in Abu Ghraib Dog Handler Case Expected Soon

Testimony Revealed High-Level Authorization of Use of Dogs Against Detainees

WASHINGTON, DC – The Defense has rested in the court martial of Army dog handler Sgt. Michael Smith, who is accused of using his military working dog to assault and mistreat detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and early 2004. A verdict could come as early as this afternoon. Human Rights First has been closely monitoring this case since the charges were first made, and HRF attorneys Jean Aylward and Avi Cover have been attending the court martial of Smith. Read their blogs from the trial at:

“The abuses at Abu Ghraib – including the use of dogs to threaten detainees – did not originate in the minds of low ranking enlisted soldiers but in the heads of top officials in the corridors of the Pentagon,” said HRF attorney Avi Cover. “The government should hold accountable those senior officers responsible for a policy of interrogation that authorized and led to serious violations of human rights and the tarnishing of the image of the United States throughout the world.”

Defense witnesses at the trial included Col. Thomas Pappas, the military intelligence commander overseeing operations at Abu Ghraib at the time of the alleged abuses; Pappas testified that he had authorized the use of dogs in interrogation, but that he misunderstood interrogation policy that was issued by the Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was then the commander of forces in Iraq. Pappas is the highest ranking officer to have testified in proceedings related to Abu Ghraib. According to both the Schlesinger Report and the congressional testimony of Defense Department and military leaders, officials in the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized the commander at Guantanamo, then Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, to advise Abu Ghraib officials on interrogation policy. Miller then delivered recommendations to Col. Pappas just prior to the beginning of the documented abuses there. Miller refused to testify in Sgt. Smith’s case, invoking his right against self-incrimination.

During the court martial, the government sought to depict Smith as a rogue and sadistic soldier, who tried to make detainees urinate or defecate on themselves; prosecutors argued that no soldier “would honestly and reasonably believe that such conduct was lawful or authorized.” The Defense has contended that Sgt. Smith was following orders from his superiors and that the use of dogs was authorized by senior officers.

“The defense has made a strong case that officers’ orders and lack of guidance led to the abuse of detainees, including threatening detainees with dogs,” said HRF lawyer Jean Aylward. “It will soon be in the hands of the panel members to decide Sgt. Smith’s fate. But it seems clear that officers higher up the chain of command who did not testify in this court martial bear a share of responsibility for the abuse.”


Published on March 17, 2006


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