Dog Handler Found Guilty of Abu Ghraib Abuse

A Fort Meade, Maryland jury found dog handler Santos A. Cardona guilt of misconduct for his role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

A military jury convicted an Army dog handler Thursday of abusing a prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Sgt. Santos A. Cardona was portrayed by prosecutors as part of a sadistic conspiracy and by defense lawyers as a victim of the chaos and confusion at Abu Ghraib.

Ten low-ranking soldiers, including Cardona’s fellow dog-handler Sgt. Michael Smith, previously were convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to testimony in their cases, detainees were abused and photographed in painful or sexually humiliating positions. Smith was sentenced to 179 days in prison.

Cardona was accused of using his military dog, Duco, to terrorize detainees for his own amusement. His civilian attorney, Harver J. Volzer, described him as a good soldier who tried to meet the urgent but muddled demands of inept senior officers. “This man did absolutely nothing wrong,” Volzer said in his closing argument Tuesday.

A military JAG would not have made that argument to a military jury. For good reason: Professional soldiers expect NCOs in the United States Army to exercise independent moral judgment.

Maj. Christopher Graveline, the lead prosecutor, discounted the defense theory that Cardona and other military police soldiers felt obliged to take orders from military intelligence workers outside their chain of command. “This is not about confusion and it’s not about military intelligence. They were doing their own thing for their own entertainment,” Graveline said.

Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, California, is accused of making his dog bite one prisoner and harass another to amuse himself and other soldiers already convicted of abuses at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and early 2004. The government also alleges he competed with another dog handler to frighten detainees into soiling themselves.

No jury of soldiers would believe such conduct represented a professional military policeman’s honest judgment about the best way to interrogate prisoners.

See Iraq Prison Scandal Archives for related stories.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.