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Whistle-blower faces uncertain fate

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Sergeant Samuel J. Provance III began his Army career as a brush-cut idealist determined to join the Special Forces. He ended up in a military intelligence unit assigned to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, where he heard stories about US soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees.

The 30-year-old Pennsylvania native said he grew troubled that prisoners were harassed, ridiculed, stripped naked, and beaten. He spoke out to military investigators and last month stunned the Army when he disobeyed an order and became the first military intelligence soldier to discuss the abuse with newspapers and television stations.

Provance said he broke ranks because he believed the military was trying to cover up the scandal. Now, as the story shifts away from him, his experience is quietly turning into a cautionary tale about the price of becoming a whistle-blower. Fellow soldiers avoid him. His security clearance has been yanked. And there's a possibility that Provance, who once studied to be a minister, could end his Army days in disgrace with a court-martial.

''You can't imagine the stress after I spoke out," said Provance, a member of the 302d Military Intelligence Battalion. ''I felt the world just fall on my shoulders. I logged on yahoo.com news, and there I was in the top story block. Oh, my God! The e-mails started coming. The first one I got was from a retired military police officer. He wrote, 'Thanks for doing the right thing.' About an hour later I got another one that said, 'You're a sorry soldier.' "

The sergeant's choice to betray Army orders appears to be rooted in a confluence of naivet and a disenchantment with military protocol and the opaque rules and loyalties that govern the realm of military intelligence.

Military officials, including commanders in the 302d battalion and the 205th Intelligence Brigade, declined to comment about the sergeant's case

A senior Pentagon official investigating the prison scandal, Army Major General George R. Fay, interviewed Provance in early May in Darmstadt, Germany. Provance ran the Abu Ghraib classified computer network and was not present during prisoner interrogations. But he told investigators it was common knowledge that intelligence interrogators encouraged mistreatment that included depriving prisoners of sleep, limiting food, and stripping detainees naked to humiliate them.

In a sworn statement, Provance also said a military intelligence soldier, Specialist Armin J. Cruz, ''was known to bang on the table, yell, scream, and maybe assaulted detainees during interrogations in the booth."

''This was not to be discussed," Provance said in the statement. ''It was kept hush-hush."

Provance later testified at a military hearing in Baghdad that Specialist Hanna Slagel had told him that guards ''made [male detainees] wear women's panties, and if they cooperated, some would get an extra blanket." Provance signed an order from his commander, Captain Scott Hedberg, not to disclose his testimony. That report was eventually leaked to reporters, and Provance gave interviews to ABC News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and other news organizations. The military whistle-blower statute protects soldiers who report abuses to members of Congress and military investigators, but it does not cover disclosures to the media.

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