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Abu Ghraib dog handler blocked from going back to Iraq

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. commanders have blocked the redeployment to Iraq of a soldier court-martialed for using dogs to threaten and harass detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, the Army said Friday.

Sgt. Santos Cardona will be returned to the United States for reassignment, the Army announced.

Cardona left Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Monday with his unit, the 23rd Military Police Company, for Kuwait en route to Iraq.

But after media inquiries, Army commanders announced they would not send Cardona because the publicity surrounding his conviction could make him and his fellow soldiers a target for insurgents.

Cardona will return from Kuwait to Fort Bragg, where he will be given unspecified new duties that enable him "to be a productive member of the military police corps and the United States Army," the Army said in a statement.

A human rights lawyer who monitored Cardona's court-martial said his redeployment to Iraq would show "an appalling lack of judgment."

"It would call into question the U.S. government's assertions that it is doing all it can to stop abuses in the future," said a statement from Hina Shamsi, a lawyer for the group Human Rights First.

Cardona was a dog handler at Abu Ghraib and was convicted in a court-martial in June of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault when he used his dog to terrorize a kneeling prisoner inside the notorious prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

He was sentenced to 90 days of hard labor. He also is paying off a fine at the rate of $600 a month.

However, he was allowed to stay in the Army, although he was transferred from the canine unit to a line platoon, the Army said.

As part of his punishment, Cardona's rank was reduced from sergeant to specialist. However, a military spokeswoman in Iraq, Josslyn Aberle, told CNN that his rank had been restored. She did not say why.

Time magazine -- whose parent company, like CNN, is Time Warner -- first reported that Cardona was returning to the Middle East with his unit.

Elevn U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes related to abuses of prisoners in 2003 and early 2004. Infamous photos of the abuse at Abu Ghraib were seen around the world.

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A prisoner at Abu Ghraib appears to be frightened by a dog, held by a soldier, in one of the images made public in 2004.

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