An Abu Ghraib Offender's Return to Iraq Is Stopped

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Sgt. Santos Cardona, second from right, using his dog Duco in an attempt to control prisoner Mohammad Bollendia at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 12, 2003.

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Retired Major General John Batiste was likewise surprised at the decision to send a soldier convicted of abuse at Abu Ghraib back to Iraq. His only comment: "You just have to wonder how far up the chain of command this decision was made."

On Thursday, Army public affairs specialist Major James Crabtree, who is assigned to the 18th Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, which has responsibility for Cardona's unit, said that Cardona, is a military policeman whose "unit happens to be deployed to Iraq, so he went with them." Crabtree said the Army commander overseeing the transfer of Cardona and other members of his unit said "there were no issues associated with [Cardona's new] deployment." He added that although a military judge ordered a reduction in rank for Cardona following his court martial, Cardona has since regained his previous rank of Sergeant.

The military jury acquitted Cardona of seven charges, including alleged attempts to harass a second prisoner with his dog. Cardona's lawyers argued that their client's actions at Abu Ghraib were condoned, if not approved in each case, by officers in charge of the prison, as well as senior officials in the Army command.

Shortly before he left for Iraq, Cardona told a close friend and family members that he was returning against his will. "He loves the Army and has deep respect for the chain of command," said a family member, who asked not to be identified by name, but who described Cardona as feeling duty-bound to accept his Iraqi deployment. The friend said that Cardona had described trying to attach another soldier's name tags to his uniform in hopes of concealing his identity from Iraqis, but was told by an officer to desist. According to this friend, Cardona said he had told at least one of his superiors that he feared for his safety in Iraq, especially because of his presence in the al-Qaeda video, but was told by an officer, "We need bodies [in Iraq]" and that he shouldn't worry about it.

Cardona's fears may have been well founded. The Abu Ghraib scandal is still a fresh subject in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The episode is still used in Jihadi propaganda, and is featured on Islamist websites. As for Cardona, his name can be referenced almost instantly on the Internet, along with news of his conviction and photos of him holding his large tan Belgian Malinois dog, as an Iraqi prisoner cowers against a concrete wall at Abu Ghraib prison. Dogs, which are considered unclean by many Muslims, have been used in U.S. detention facilities in both Iraq and Guantanamo to intimidate prisoners.

When the recently slain terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi executed American Nicholas Berg, he went out of his way to specify that the gruesome murder was an act of revenge for crimes committed by the U.S. military against Muslims at the prison. Both Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, use events at the prison to explain their calls for Holy War against the U.S. "Al-Qaeda and other Jihadis still cite Abu Ghraib to demonstrate what they call U.S. crimes against Muslims," notes Rita Katz, director and co-founder of the SITE Institute, who has made a study of terrorist videos and other propaganda. "Some of the videos actually feature the dogs used at Abu Ghraib."

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