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Medic says guards beat new detainees

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- A Navy medic who served at a Marine detention facility in Iraq testified yesterday during a court-martial that he witnessed guards beating newly arrived inmates to intimidate them.

Petty Officer Carlton Blay said he saw one defendant, Sergeant Gary Pittman, and other Marine reservists punch and slap between 10 and 15 detainees, but not an Iraqi inmate whose death is the focus of the trial. The detainees did not resist the blows, which were strong enough to cause some to groan or stagger, Blay said.

Force was used to "create a sense of dominance" and let the detainees know who was in charge at the makeshift Marine lockup, he said.

Blay's testimony came in the second week of the trial of Pittman, a federal prison guard in New York in civilian life. His court-martial is believed to be the first stemming from the death of a prisoner in Iraq.

Last week, another Marine guard testified that he saw Blay hit Nagem Hatab, the 52-year-old inmate who was found dead at the camp in June 2003. Blay, however, denied hitting the man or seeing other guards do so.

Blay testified under immunity from military prosecutors. Major Leon Francis, a prosecutor, noted in court yesterday that Blay also sought immunity from federal criminal prosecution. It was unclear whether the request was granted.

Yesterday marked the first day of testimony from defense witnesses in the trial of Pittman, who allegedly karate-kicked Hatab in the chest a day before he died.

Dr. Brian Peterson, a forensic pathologist, testified that Hatab's heart condition likely led to his death, but decomposition of the body and a lack of detail in the autopsy report made it impossible to say for sure.

Peterson said he had never seen a case where a kick to the chest caused six rib fractures found on the two sides of Hatab's chest. Peterson said the fractures could have been caused by rough handling of the body after death.

Francis noted on cross-examination that four doctors involved in the case reached different conclusions about what killed Hatab.

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