Abuser convicted

By David Dishneau The Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. – An Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib was convicted yesterday of tormenting prisoners with his snarling animal and competing with a comrade to make the Iraqis soil themselves.

Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 24, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was found guilty at a court-martial of six of the 13 counts. The judge later dismissed one of those six counts, saying it duplicated another.

A sentencing hearing began in the afternoon. The five charges carried up to 8 1/2 years behind bars.

Prosecutors said Smith let his unmuzzled black Belgian shepherd bark and lunge at several prisoners for his own amusement. One of the photographs that led to the exposure of the scandal at the Iraqi prison shows his dog straining on its leash, just inches from the face of a cowering prisoner.

Smith had faced the stiffest potential sentence of any soldier charged so far in the Abu Ghraib scandal – 24 1/2 years in prison.

The defense maintained that Smith was a good soldier who believed he was doing what the government wanted canine handlers to do at Abu Ghraib: Provide security and frighten interrogation subjects. Also, defense attorney Capt. Mary G. McCarthy said all that Smith’s dog did to prisoners was bark at them.

The defense further argued that Abu Ghraib was a dangerous, chaotic place where policies were so murky that even the colonel who supervised interrogations testified he was confused.

The jury deliberated for about 18 hours over three days.