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Judge: Abu Ghraib a crime scene

Gallery: Abuse at Abu Ghraib prison (Contains graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.)

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George W. Bush
United States

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A military judge in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal granted a defense motion Monday to declare the Baghdad jail site a crime scene and ordered that it must not be destroyed while U.S. soldiers are on trial.

In a speech late last month, President Bush said the United States would tear it down if the new Iraqi government agreed. But just over a week ago, Iraq's interim president said "demolishing and rebuilding" the facility would be a waste of money.

Seven U.S. soldiers have been accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad, all reservists with the 372nd Military Police Company.

One pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison and given a bad conduct discharge. Five others are awaiting possible courts-martial in Iraq. The case of Pfc. Lynndie England is being heard in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she was transferred because she is pregnant. (Full story)

Monday's motion by Paul Bergrin, the civilian defense attorney for Sgt. Javal Davis, came during pretrial hearings in the courts-martial proceedings against Davis and two others.

The hearing for one of the other two, Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, was postponed to July 23 because his civilian attorney did not appear in court, citing security concerns and difficulties getting to Baghdad.

The judge said the attorney had asked to represent Frederick by telephone, a request he denied.

Although Bergrin and Guy Womack, the attorney for the third man, Spc. Charles Graner, said outside the courtroom they would like to question Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, neither lawyer asked the judge for that right.

"We'd like to depose [Rumsfeld] just to show how the ball got rolling, not that we think he did anything wrong, because we don't think he did," Womack said.

"But once this ball got rolling, it gained momentum and accelerated. By the time it got to Abu Ghraib, [the MPs] thought they had a freer hand than they did."

Both Womack and Bergrin have been given access to military leaders as high as Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Womack said that although there were no specific orders to handle prisoners in the manner they did, the MPs were "following orders [they] believed to be lawful."

"Under the environment as it existed at Abu Ghraib, it appeared to be lawful," Womack said, noting that his client's unit arrived at the prison with the activities already ongoing and were told to "follow the orders of military intelligence and so they did."

But, Womack said, the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were "not protected by international or American law" in any event.

"And therefore you can't be guilty of maltreatment if they're not even protected by law," he said.

Womack said he was asking for legal memos prepared for senior officials "that defined torture and showed that these acts were not torture and that these prisoners were not subject to the Geneva Conventions."

Graner, Davis and Frederick face general courts-martial -- military courts that handle felony-level offenses. All have been reassigned to other duties in the aftermath of the charges at the prison.

In other developments, the judge denied a request for a change of venue -- although he said he might consider it again later -- and for a new hearings for Graner and Davis.

Both Womack and Bergrin considered the ruling about the prison a victory.

"The president of the United States went before the American people and he said, 'I'm going to tear down the Abu Ghraib prison. I'm going to destroy it and level it,' " Bergrin said.

"This judge had the integrity ... to tell the president of the United States, 'You're not touching that prison.' "

Iraqi officials have indicated they will leave the prison standing for the time being.

"It's a prison that we spent more than $100 million building," said interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer on June 13.

"And if we consider it's a symbol of Saddam's atrocities -- Saddam used to torture people in each and every basement in Iraq -- so that means we have to demolish all government entities."

'Horror movie'

In May, Spc. Jeremy Sivits received the maximum sentence in a special courts martial for his role in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

The deal allows him to testify against other soldiers involved in the abuse at the prison.
Graner, left, appeared in some of the images that sparked worldwide outrage. In the other photo is Spc. Sabrina Harman, who also faces charges.

Sivits, 24, pleaded guilty to all three criminal charges against him: conspiracy to maltreat subordinates, or detainees; dereliction of duty for willfully failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment; and maltreatment of detainees.

He will face a year of confinement, discharge for bad conduct, and demotion to the rank of private. His sentence is under automatic appeal.

Sivits told the court in May he saw Frederick punching an inmate so hard that all present feared the man had a heart attack.

A medic was called to attend the man after the incident, which occurred November 8, Sivits said.

Sivits also told investigators that Graner forced the prisoners to disrobe, mocked them and "punched [a] detainee with a closed fist so hard in the temple that it knocked the detainee unconscious."

Describing Abu Ghraib, Sivits said, "It was hell ... out of a horror movie."

He said the events of November 8 lasted no more than 30 minutes.

After entering his plea, Sivits gave explicit details of abuses he said took place on November 8 involving six or seven other soldiers, including beatings and positioning the prisoners in sexual positions.

Some of the soldiers appear in photographs showing abuse that have sparked outrage across the world.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Ayman Mohyeldin contributed to this report.

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