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Six months for Abu Ghraib dog handler

10th soldier convicted in mistreatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners

From Paul Courson




FORT MEADE, Maryland (CNN) -- A soldier found guilty of using a military dog to terrorize inmates at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison was sentenced Wednesday to 179 days confinement and will be discharged for bad conduct.

Army Sgt. Michael J. Smith also will be demoted to private, and his monthly pay will be reduced by $750 for three months, making his paycheck about $1,523 a month.

Smith, 25, was convicted Tuesday of five counts in what began as a 13-count court-martial. He was charged with using his canine, Marco, to terrify prisoners -- allegedly for amusement and in competition with other soldiers.

He also was convicted of allowing the dog to participate in the lewd acts of licking peanut butter off of a woman's chest and a man's genitalia.

After deliberating six hours Wednesday, the jury consisting of four officers and three enlisted soldiers returned with the verdict. Smith faced a maximum penalty of more than 8 years in prison.

Smith will spend Wednesday night in a Howard County, Maryland, jail before being assigned to an Army confinement center.

Smith's family pleaded Tuesday with the jury to be lenient in sentencing the sergeant because his older brother Brian died of a heart attack in January while Smith prepared for the court-martial.

Rachel Smith, 27, told jurors that her brother-in-law promised to take care of her and her 4-year-old son, Matthew, after Brian died and that he shouldn't have to do that from a jail cell.

Smith's father, Charles, then took the stand and told the jury, "I've already lost one son this year. It would be tough to lose two,"

Reading from a prepared statement Tuesday, Smith expressed regret regarding the lascivious conduct, calling the incident "foolish, stupid and juvenile."

"There's nothing I can do to take it back. If I could, I would," Smith said.

However, he did not express regret for mistreating the detainees at the U.S.-managed prison outside of Baghdad. Rather, he said he wished he would've gotten his instructions to do so in writing.

"One thing I wish I could do as Sgt. Smith," he said, "is that I'd like to go back and pull young Specialist Smith over, and say, 'Let me talk to you. You need to get something in writing to CYA or you're going to end up in a heap of trouble.' "

Sordid testimony

Smith was found guilty of mistreating a prisoner with his unmuzzled, barking and growling dog; mistreating two juvenile detainees at Abu Ghraib by harassing and threatening them with the dog; using his dog to make detainees soil themselves out of fear; and of failing to use his dog solely for authorized purposes.

He also was found guilty of an indecent act involving his dog.

The trial opened March 13 at a military complex near Washington. It was there that U.S. Army Spc. Jennifer Scala testified that she put peanut butter on her chest and allowed Smith's dog to lick it off while another soldier videotaped it. The soldier who taped the incident dared her to do it, she said.

During the same incident, another soldier allowed Smith's dog to lick peanut butter from his genitals and videotaped the act.

Defense counsel tried to convince the jury that the woman couldn't identify the dog or the handler, but jurors were not convinced and convicted Smith of an indecent act.

Abu Ghraib, infamous during the reign of Saddam Hussein, has become even more notorious amid allegations of widespread abuse of prisoners by the U.S. soldiers operating it. The U.S. military says it plans to soon hand over the prison to Iraq.

Expert witness unavailable

Prosecutors in Smith's case suffered a setback Tuesday when they had to cancel the planned testimony of a terrorism expert because the expert could not make it to the pre-sentencing hearing.

The expert was expected to describe how snapshots of U.S. troops mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib are now being used by terror groups for recruitment and to incite violence.

When Smith took the stand Tuesday to ask for leniency, he acknowledged that his actions could prompt retaliation from the terrorists.

"I prayed that no matter what happens throughout this case, nothing happens to my family," he said, looking at the jury. "That they're safe, that they don't have to worry about any retribution by any organization, terrorists, anything like that from what I've done."

Smith's conviction brings the total number of U.S. troops convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal to 10. The harshest sentence was meted out to the reputed ringleader of the abuse, Cpl. Charles Graner, who faces 10 years in prison.

The court-martial of another military dog handler and Smith's partner on security details at Abu Ghraib, Sgt. Santos Cardona, 31, is scheduled to begin May 22.

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