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Jury Finds Abu Ghraib Dog Handler Guilty

Associated Press | March 21, 2006
By DAVID DISHNEAU

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) -- A jury found an Army dog handler guilty Tuesday of abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison by terrifying them with a military dog, allegedly for his own amusement.

Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 24, was found guilty of six of 13 counts.

He had faced the stiffest potential sentence of any soldier charged so far in the Abu Ghraib scandal - up to 24 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts. With the six counts, he could face more than 8 years in prison, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. His sentencing was scheduled later Tuesday.

The military jury deliberated for about 18 hours over three days before announcing its verdict.

The government contended that Smith, of the 523rd Military Police Detachment, Fort Riley, Kan., used his black Belgian shepherd to intimidate five prisoners for fun and competed with another canine handler trying to make detainees soil themselves.

In closing arguments Friday, a prosecutor said Smith had violated two tenets of his training: treat prisoners humanely and use the minimum amount of force needed to ensure compliance.

The defense argued that Smith was a good soldier who had done what he was supposed to do by having his dog bark at prisoners in a dangerous, chaotic environment where policies were so fuzzy that even the general who supervised interrogations testified he felt confused.

Smith, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was found guilty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with two counts of maltreatment involving three detainees, one count of conspiring to make a contest of making detainees soil themselves, dereliction of duty, assault and an indecent act.

The soldier, wearing his green dress uniform, stood at attention staring straight ahead as a panel member read the verdict.

The other dog handler, Sgt. Santos A. Cardona, 31, of Fullerton, Calif., is to stand trial May 22.

Nine other soldiers have been convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib. Among them, former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. received the stiffest sentence - 10 years in prison.

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