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Soldiers first to be charged with prisoner abuse

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 27, 2003

WASHINGTON - The military has charged four U.S. soldiers with abusing prisoners of war in Iraq, but the soldiers and their families deny the charges.

The military police from a Pennsylvania Army Reserve unit are accused of punching, kicking and breaking bones of prisoners at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S.-run POW camp in Iraq.

The soldiers, charged this month, are the first U.S. troops known to face charges of abusing prisoners during the Iraq conflict.

The military's investigation continues, said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice of U.S. Central Command. Balice confirmed four soldiers had been charged as part of that investigation but said he could not release their names.

The Associated Press obtained the identities of those charged and the specific allegations against them in interviews Saturday with the parents of all four.

The soldiers say their actions were in self-defense when Iraqi prisoners attacked them.

"A few of my MPs were assaulted by the enemy prisoners, and we had to use force to regain control, all justifiable," one of the accused, Staff Sgt. Scott McKenzie, e-mailed to relatives five days after the May 12 incident.

The four are not jailed but have been given restricted duties, separated from each other and assigned to a base in Kuwait, away from the rest of their unit. Military authorities told the four this month to quit talking about the case, relatives said.

Family members say they are worried about the stress on the four soldiers.

"If one of them commits suicide, if one of them gets killed, somebody has to answer for that," said Carol Graff, mother of Master Sgt. Lisa Girman.

The soldiers are awaiting an Article 32 hearing, where prosecutors lay out evidence of a crime and a commander decides whether to convene a court-martial. At least three other soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion are being investigated, relatives said.

"I can't believe they're treating the soldiers this way," said Linda Edmondson, mother of Sgt. Shawna Edmondson. "All they did was go help transport prisoners, and they are charged with this."

The four face up to five charges each of assault and mistreating prisoners. McKenzie, 37, and Girman, 35, also face charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Edmondson, 24, is charged only with assault, mistreatment and dereliction of duty. Spec. Tim Canjar, 21, also is charged with making false statements.

The most serious charges, making false statements and obstruction of justice, each carry a possible prison term of up to five years. Dereliction of duty and mistreating prisoners carry penalties of up to a year in prison, and assault carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

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