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3 Iraqis to testify at trial on abuse

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Three Iraqi detainees who were allegedly abused at the Abu Ghraib prison by American soldiers will be among the 35 witnesses called to testify in the military trial of Specialist Charles Graner, the Army reservist and alleged ringleader of the abuse who is due to be court-martialed here next week.

A jury of 10 military officers and enlisted men was empaneled in one hour yesterday morning, after being quizzed about their ability to be impartial. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

Only one officer questioned -- and ultimately dismissed -- said he could not be impartial, noting that he was affected by the media images of the abuse. Photographs of the Army specialist giving a thumbs-up behind naked Iraqi detainees piled in a pyramid rocked the international community and embarrassed the Bush administration last year, setting off months of investigations and charges.

The all-male panel will hear from the three prisoners by videotape; one of them will be a defense witness. The jurors will also hear testimony from Graner's alleged coconspirators, some of whom have already pleaded guilty to charges arising from the abuse. Graner faces up to 17 years in prison and is the first of several reservists to stand for a full-fledged court-martial. His lawyer, Guy Womack, said yesterday that he has not decided whether to put Graner on the stand but that the soldier was an ''outstanding candidate" for such a strategy.

At least seven members of the jury must agree for a conviction, and eight must agree to sentence Graner to more than 10 years in prison.

Looking calm and upbeat, Graner pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of conspiracy, assault, and humiliating the prisoners by forcing them to pose in sexual positions at the prison near Baghdad. ''No matter what happens, we're good to go," Graner told reporters after the hearing. ''There's been ups and downs, but the ups have so outweighed the downs. Whatever happens is going to happen. I feel it's going to be on the positive side."

Womack reiterated the defense yesterday, saying that Graner was following ''lawful" orders when he abused the prisoners. The lawyer added that even if the orders were unlawful, Graner would not be culpable if he believed them to be lawful.

Womack said officers who gave the orders would not be called to testify because ''they are invoking their right to remain silent."

''We have to hold the order givers to a higher standard," he said.

Womack praised the jury selected. ''We could not pick a truer jury of peers than to have a combat veteran tried by other combat veterans," he said.

On Thursday, the prosecution dropped four charges against Graner, including two charges of assault, obstruction of justice, and adultery.

The adultery allegation involved his affair with Private First Class Lynndie England, who also faces charges arising from the prisoner abuse. England became pregnant with a child she says is Graner's and has since delivered a son. Her trial date has not been set so she will not be called to testify.

Sergeant Javal Davis is scheduled for trial in February, and Specialist Sabrina Harman in March. Four others stationed at Abu Ghraib pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the abuse; three were sentenced to prison terms, and one was reduced in rank.

While Graner maintains that he was following orders to ''soften up" detainees for intelligence interrogators, military prosecutors charge that he and the others went far beyond any orders in their abuse.

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