BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The highest-ranking U.S. soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib prison case was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison, the severest punishment so far in the scandal that broke in April with the publication of photos and video showing Americans humiliating and abusing naked Iraqis.
Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick's civilian attorney, Gary Myers, called the sentence "excessive" and argued that the military command was at fault for failing to train his client -- a veteran military policeman and a corrections officer in civilian life -- and for failing to address the horrid conditions at the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad.
The abuses occurred at a time when American intelligence officers were under strong pressure to gather as much information as possible on the burgeoning insurgency, which threatens the entire U.S. mission in Iraq. Since then, the insurgency has spread throughout Sunni Muslim areas of the country, engulfing regions that were relatively safe for Americans and other Westerners only a few months ago.
Attacks across Iraq have increased by about 25 percent since the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that began last weekend, with mostly car bombs and strikes on civilians rather than direct assaults on U.S. forces, Pentagon officials said. U.S. and Iraqi authorities want to curb the violence in order to hold elections in January.
Besides his prison sentence, Frederick, 38, of Buckingham, Va., was reduced in rank to private, ordered to forfeit pay and given a dishonorable discharge under a plea agreement that requires him to testify against others charged with abusing Iraqi detainees. All military verdicts are subject to appeal.
Frederick pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, assault and committing an indecent act.
He admitted that he forced one group of detainees to masturbate publicly and later piled them into a naked, human pyramid. During another infamous incident captured on photos seen around the world, Frederick said he and other guards hooked wires on the hands and feet of a hooded detainee who was told to stand on a box or else be electrocuted.
Photos and a video taken by the soldiers were submitted as evidence during the trial. Frederick said he snapped the photos "just to take back home."
"He's an adult capable of making decisions," the prosecutor, Maj. Michael Holley, said. "He's an adult and capable of telling, as we learned, the difference between right and wrong. How much training do you need to learn that it's wrong to force a man to masturbate?"
Frederick admitted that what he did was wrong but told the court Wednesday that when he complained to his superiors, "they told me to do what MI told me to do," referring to military intelligence.
His company commander, Capt. Donald Reese, testified Wednesday in a video hookup from the United States that Abu Ghraib was "a dangerous place" subject to frequent mortar attacks and with Iraqi guards who "were not to be trusted."
"It was very confusing as to who was in charge of the place," he said, with coalition authorities, the FBI, military police and military intelligence all playing a role.
Reese said the OGA -- an acronym for Other Government Agency, which generally refers to the CIA -- interrogated Iraqi inmates at night, when supervision at the prison was low. He said one inmate suffered "panic attacks" after CIA interrogators deprived him of sleep.
Reese said he was angered by the treatment, and demanded the interrogators issue written orders explaining how certain prisoners should be interrogated.
"From that point on, we demanded they put everything in writing," Reese said. "It was very confusing."
Seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., have been charged in the scandal, including Frederick and Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits of Hyndman, Pa., who already is serving a one-year sentence after pleading guilty in May to three counts.
In addition, Spc. Armin Cruz, 24, a military intelligence soldier, was sentenced last month to eight months in jail.