Attorneys say charges against soldiers should be dropped in Afghan abuse cases

Lawyers for a military police commander and an intelligence soldier argued that the Army is targeting the wrong people in a prisoner abuse case and asked that all charges against their clients be dropped. Capt. Christopher M. Beiring and Pfc. Damien M. Corsetti are charged in an investigation prompted by the deaths of two prisoners at a detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002. The two soldiers had separate Article 32 hearings, the military equivalent of grand jury hearings. Beiring, who commanded troops guarding detainees, is accused of failing to properly supervise soldiers and take corrective action after a detainee died. Beiring, 39, faces charges of dereliction of duty and making a false official statement.

His civilian attorney, Charles W. Gittins, accused Army prosecutors of "criminal negligence" in bringing the false-statement charge. Gittins conceded that mistakes were made at Bagram, but he suggested they were the fault of Beiring's superior officers.

"There are a lot of screw-ups in this, but almost all of them go above his pay grade," Gittins said Tuesday. In an unsworn statement, Beiring denied any wrongdoing and told the hearing's investigating officer, Lt. Col. Tom Berg, that he's "ashamed and appalled" by the Bagram prosecutions.

Following his hearing, Beiring said he was naive to believe that no abuse occurred but said he should not be held responsible for independent acts of his soldiers. Capt. Kevin Tewes, the Army prosecutor, argued that every mistake made by Beiring's soldiers was his responsibility as the officer in charge of the detention center. Berg said he hoped to make a recommendation within two weeks to Fort Bliss commanders, who will make the final decision on whether Beiring proceeds to a court-martial.

Ten of Beiring's soldiers have faced criminal charges in the abuse cases, which primarily revolve around the deaths of the two Afghan detainees.

Charges against two were dropped, while three others, all sergeants, were acquitted by military juries. Three were either convicted or pleaded guilty to abuse charges, and two await trial. Capt. Joseph Owens, one of Corsetti's lawyers, argued that charges against his client are baseless and the result of political pressure in the wake of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.

"A political witch hunt has begun," Owens told Col. Henry J. Hogan III, the investigating officer. "We have decided to go after young enlisted soldiers ... to appease the rest of the world."

Corsetti has been accused of mistreating several detainees, including a top al-Qaida lieutenant who escaped from the Bagram facility in July. Investigators say Corsetti sat on detainees, threw trash and cigarette ash on them and threatened sexual assault, reports the AP. I.L.

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