June 2, 2006

Soldier gets 90 days for Abu Ghraib abuse

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A U.S. Army dog handler
was demoted and sentenced to 90 days of hard labor on Friday
for using his dog to assault a prisoner at the Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, California, the 11th
U.S. soldier convicted for abusing Abu Ghraib detainees, also
will have to forfeit $7,200 in pay, an Army spokeswoman said.
He will not be confined during the term of hard labor but will
be demoted to specialist.

A U.S. military court-martial panel of four officers and
three enlisted personnel convicted Cardona on Thursday of two
counts that could have led to 3 1/2 years in prison -- failing
to handle his dog properly and using the unmuzzled Belgian
shepherd to threaten a detainee with a force "likely to produce
death or grievous bodily harm."

He was cleared on seven other counts, including accusations
of letting his dog bite a prisoner and of conspiring with
another dog handler to frighten inmates into defecating and
urinating on themselves.

Cardona's defense attorneys had sought to portray him as a
victim of unclear orders and an ambiguous chain of command that
silently condoned using dogs to terrorize Iraqi prisoners in
hopes of getting more intelligence out of them.

Cardona's case arose after the 2004 release of photographs
of Army personnel at Abu Ghraib letting snarling dogs
intimidate prisoners and forcing the inmates into humiliating

Cardona's verdict and sentencing come as the military
investigates new allegations that U.S. Marines killed 24 Iraqi
civilians in an unprovoked attack in November in the town of
Haditha. The U.S. military also is investigating four other
cases in which U.S. troops are alleged to have killed Iraqi

Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International
USA, said Cardona's acquittal on the most serious charge and
relatively light sentence were "yet another example of a
punishment that belittles the seriousness of the crime."

"In addition, we are disturbed by the fact that commanding
officers have been granted immunity to testify rather than held
accountable for crimes committed under their watch," he said.

Cardona's dog-handling colleague, Sgt. Michael Smith, was
convicted in March and sentenced to 179 days in jail. No
soldier above the rank of staff sergeant has been convicted of
abuse at the prison but Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who headed the
interrogation center, is scheduled to become the first officer
to face a court-martial on abuse charges.

Of the other 10 people convicted of Abu Ghraib-related
abuse, one received a 10-year sentence and another eight years.
None of the others received more than three years.