UMM QASR, Iraq -- The U.S. military opened a hearing Wednesday into allegations that four U.S. Army reservists abused Iraqi prisoners of war at a camp in this southern port city.
Possible charges include dereliction of duty, assault and maltreatment of prisoners. Three of the soldiers also could be charged with making a false official statement and one faces possible obstruction of justice counts.
The hearing, being held at Camp Bucca, is the equivalent of a civilian grand jury investigation that will produce a nonbinding recommendation to be forwarded to senior military officials for a final judgment.
The four -- Spc. Timothy Canjar, 21; Sgt. Shawna Edmondson, 24; Master Sgt. Lisa Marie Girman, 35, and Staff Sgt. Scott A. McKenzie, 38 -- are all from the 320th Military Police Battalion, based in Ashley, Pa.
They are alleged to have punched and kicked several Iraqis, breaking one man's nose, while escorting a busload of prisoners to a POW processing center at Camp Bucca in May in Umm Qasr. The soldiers have said they acted in self-defense.
"The hearing is being held to determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial or dismiss the case," said Maj. Vic Harris, a U.S. Army spokesman.
The list of allegations, obtained by The Associated Press, included kicking and hitting the prisoners in the groin, face, abdomen, and head, and holding prisoners and encouraging others to kick them.
Stephen Stallard, a squad leader of a unit involved in transporting 44 Iraqi POWs on the day of the alleged incident, testified that Girman told him, "I think we show the prisoners too much respect."
Stallard recalled the alleged abuse of one of the prisoners and testified, "In my opinion, he was screaming for his life."
Several of the reservists have experience in handling prisoners in their civilian jobs.
Girman, a Pennsylvania state trooper for 14 years, served at a POW camp during the 1991 Gulf War. McKenzie, who was decorated for his previous service in Bosnia, is a lieutenant in a boot camp-style prison run by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Edmondsun is a campus security officer at the University of Scranton, where she also takes classes.
The case has caused an uproar in Pennsylvania, where their relatives have enlisted the help of politicians, veterans' groups and friends to support the four reservists.
"A bloody nose and a twisted arm, and our kids are facing prison time?" said Edmondson's mother, Linda. "In time of war, it's ridiculous. She could have shot them, if she wanted to hurt someone."
Harris said the military was aware of the families' feelings, "but they have to know that this is how the system works."
"They (the prisoners) are human beings and they should be treated with dignity and respect, and certainly according to the Geneva Convention," Harris said.
Amnesty International has said some former prisoners have complained of being treated poorly, held in filthy conditions, restrained in painful positions, and exposed to bright lights and loud music for long periods.