Whose version of the truth is the truth?
Richard Serrano breaks an exclusive story in the LA Times this evening about what Army SPC Jeremy Sivits will confess to after the pleads guilty to a special court martial next week in Iraq. So far, military law pundits like me think that Sivits is being induced to plead guilty so that prosecutors will have at least one MP on the inside testifying for them, if for no other reason than to explain what's going on in all those awful photographs.
Sivits, who according to sources is expected to plead guilty at a court-martial proceeding next week in Baghdad, also gave fresh details about the other suspects in the beating of Iraqi prisoners - for the first time describing their moods as the prisoners were stripped and abused.Analysis: I'm not yet ready to believe everything this guy says, or buy into this Specialist's testimony as the absolute truth. But if he's right, it still may not let the command off the hook. The fact that they didn't know about these events isn't enough. If they should have known about them, by doing proper nighttime inspections and spot-checks, and they didn't know, then they're still legally culpable. More to follow...
He also maintained, according to the documents, that all of this was done without the knowledge of their superiors in the Army chain of command.
"Our command would have slammed us," he said. "They believe in doing the right thing. If they saw what was going on, there would be hell to pay."
He said Graner warned him not to say anything, telling him: "You did not see (this)."
Graner's lawyers have said he and other soldiers were under pressure by military interrogators to "soften up" the detainees to get intelligence. All the other soldiers are expected to plead not guilty.
Sivits said he first became aware of the abuse, and began photographing much of it, on Oct. 3, nearly a month before the early November dates believed to have been the start of the harsh treatment against inmates in the overcrowded prison.
Update I -- Pointing Fingers: Chris Cooper reports in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the story being advanced by Army SPC Charles Graner, which predictably, is at odds with that being advanced by SPC Sivits. What's the real truth? Who knows -- I'm sure it's out there somewhere. But in SPC Graner's case, he's got another strike against him: an adultery charge founded on his apparent affair with PFC Lynndie England (who is now pregnant with Graner's baby). This charge will probably have some effect on SPC Graner's credibility, and it'll probably be a slam dunk for the prosecution assuming they can medically prove paternity.
To me, this is starting to look like the final fatal scene in Quentin Tarantino's cult classic Resevoir Dogs, where all of the main characters engage in an armed standoff that ends in absolute bloodshed. Of course, the defendants here don't have pistols pointed at each other; just their future court testimony. But I still predict the same outcome -- total failure for all of these defendants when they try to point fingers in their courts martial. You see, military juries are really good at cutting through the smoke & mirrors typically thrown up by defense attorneys. The saying goes that if you're innocent, it's good to be before a military jury, but if you're guilty, it's bad to be before a military jury. I think these MPs are about to find out the reason for that maxim.
Update II: Noah Shachtman has an interesting article today in Wired News on lie detectors and whether the most advanced of these devices can accurately do its job. Polygraph evidence is generally inadmissable, even in military courts. But I wouldn't be surprised to see one of these MPs strapping on a polygraph to win some points in the court of public opinion.
Update III -- BG Karpinski speaks: The Washington Post hosted a live online discussion with BG Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th MP Brigade, which deserves a read from anyone interested in this story. She still hedges a bit on her command responsibility, but I think she actually acquitted herself quite well in this online discussion.