Even though the Abu Ghraib scandal has faded from the front pages, Smith's trial is attracting attention because it highlights in a way that previous cases did not the extent to which senior Army officers may have established guidelines that led to abuse in the first place. Lawyers for Smith, who faces a sentence of more than 24 years in prison, claim that he broke no rules but rather was merely following officially sanctioned policies handed down by superior officers. Other soldiers found guilty of abuse at Abu Ghraib, including Charles Graner and Lynndie England, were never able o demonstrate that their actions had been approved by higher-ups.
In the Smith trial, the defense will point to statements made by Army Col. Thomas Pappas, the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, who has said he had approval from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a former commandant of Guantanamo who helped establish interrogation rules at Abu Ghraib. According to Pappas, Miller approved the use of dogs to extract information from detainees. In a statement given under oath on Jan. 25 after he was granted immunity from prosecution, Col. Pappas said he personally approved the use of dogs for a handful of prisoners. That approval, he said, came just days before now notorious photographs since introduced as evidence in the Smith trial were taken of Smith threatening a cowering prisoner with his dog. The prisoner, identified as a high-value intelligence target, was interrogated numerous times.
Pappas' s account appears to directly contradict statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Maj. Gen. Miller, who has said that that he authorized dogs to be used only for perimeter security, not for questioning prisoners. Pappas himself will be called to testify at the Smith trial, which could last up to two weeks, but Maj. Gen. Miller last month invoked his right not to incriminate himself and said he would not appear in court.
The stark contradiction between two senior Army officers Col. Pappas and Maj. Gen. Miller has upset lawmakers on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced at a hearing that he expected to have Maj. Gen. Miller testify before his panel at an unspecified date. Last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who also sits on the committee, made an even more pointed comment, saying, "Shame on us if we allow a story to go forward that is not true and the... dog handlers are paying the price."
To make it easier to oblige Maj. Gen. Miller to appear before the committee, both chairman Warner and Carl Levin of Michigan, its top Democrat, recently asked the Army to delay Maj. Gen. Miller's planned retirement. As for Pappas, the Army reprimanded and fined him last May for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, citing his dereliction of duty.
After Smith's trial is over, Sgt. Santos Cardona, a canine handler who worked with Sgt. Smith at Abu Ghraib, will be tried for his alleged similar abuses involving his dog. Sgt. Cardona is contesting the charges against him and is expected to invoke some of the same defense arguments as Sgt. Smith. So far in the Abu Ghraib scandal, only low-ranking soldiers have been subject to prison terms, with Graner, often described as the ringleader, sentenced to more than 10 years.