Some Iraqis apparently will not be satisfied with the first court-martial of a soldier who allegedly took part in the abuse of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison.
“The soldiers should be tried in an Iraqi court because what they did hurt the Iraqi people,” said Ali Mohammed Selman, 24, a taxi driver waiting for customers near the convention center where Spc. Jeremy Sivits was scheduled for trial today. “The only punishment for them is execution.”
Several other Iraqis standing nearby agreed, even those who had little knowledge of the impending trial.
Sivits faces a maximum of one year in prison, reduced pay and a bad conduct discharge. He is expected to plead guilty to mistreating and photographing prisoners, part of a deal to get leniency in exchange for cooperation with prosecutors. His case is before a so-called special court-martial that allows only those limited penalties.
There could be several more courts-martial here during the coming weeks. In addition to Sivits’ trial, the military scheduled arraignments today for three other Abu Ghraib guards; Staff Sgt. Ivan Fredericks, Sgt. Javal Davis and Spc. Charles Graner Jr.
The trial is being held at the convention center to make it more accessible to the news media, especially the Arab-language press. Cameras and recorders are not permitted inside. But nearly three dozen journalists will witness the proceedings and dozens more by closed-circuit television. The night before the proceedings, 10 satellite transmissions trucks were in position to broadcast around the world.
Protests by former inmates and their families are expected to get plenty of television time even if the courtroom is off limits to cameras.
“Our aspiration is not to turn this into a show trial. Our aspiration is to mete out justice,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the U.S. military command. It’s a “collateral benefit” that Iraqis and others will see American justice at work, he said.
Kimmitt told reporters that he hoped the world would wait until all the courts-martial are over before reaching a decision on whether the United States is serious about punishing the abusers.
Abu Ghraib has become an international scandal. But only yards away from the makeshift courtroom, many Iraqis said they were unaware that the trial was imminent. Baghdad residents have bigger worries, such as crime, car bombs, and shortages of gasoline, electricity and clean water.
On Tuesday, none of 11 Baghdad newspapers had articles or editorials on the subject. One carried an advertisement from an unnamed sponsor reminding people to remember Saddam Hussein’s treatment of prisoners as they so easily condemn the Americans.
Plea bargains, or something similar to them, are a part of the Iraqi justice system. Frequently, tribes work out compensation packages to right wrongs. But Tariq al-Obaidi, a mechanic who’s been following the case in the news, said justice demanded tough action in these cases. “The people who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib should be executed,” he said.