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Sgt. Javal Davis pleads guilty
Associated Press Writer
February 2, 2005, 8:51 PM EST

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Sgt. Javal Davis was so stressed out by his job as an Abu Ghraib prison guard that, on a particularly bad day in November 2003, he lost his temper and lashed out at a group of detainees, an Army jury was told Wednesday.

The nine-man panel heard Davis admit during his sentencing hearing that he stepped on the hands and feet of those detainees and that he later fell with full weight on top of those prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Davis, a 27-year-old former guard at Abu Ghraib, pleaded guilty Tuesday to battery, dereliction of duty and lying to Army investigators as part of a deal with prosecutors on the eve of his scheduled trial.

He faces a maximum 6{ years in prison for his crimes, but defense lawyer Paul Bergrin has told The Associated Press that the plea deal caps Davis' sentence at 18 months.

Capt. Chuck Neill, a prosecution spokesman, said the jury's sentence recommendation will be compared to the deal offered to Davis, and the lesser sentence will be served.

Bergrin sought to paint Abu Ghraib as a bleak and volatile place for the jury of four officers and five senior enlisted men to explain why Davis, an ill-trained reservist from Roselle, N.J., acted as he did.

Maj. David Dinenna, a leader of Davis' military police battalion, testified that conditions at the Abu Ghraib prison complex were "deplorable" for the thousands of detainees and their vastly outnumbered guards.

"It was filthy, with rodents, rats, wild dogs and trash and an overpopulation of prisoners," said Dinenna. Edible food and water were in short supply, he said, and mortar attacks, small-arms fire and prisoner flare-ups were common hazards.

He said he sent many e-mails seeking more supplies and more guards, as MPs moved to other assignments often were not replaced, which meant more work and heightened stress for those left at Abu Ghraib.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Maj. Michael Holley, Dinenna agreed that guards at other U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq faced similar conditions, but that they didn't abuse prisoners as a result.

Testimony is to continue Thursday.

Earlier prosecutors played a tape recording for jurors in which Davis responded to questions in court Tuesday from Col. James Pohl, the judge, about what he did to the group of seven handcuffed and hooded prisoners and what he didn't do to protect them from other guards.

Davis said that he knew his actions were wrong and that the abuse was not carried out as part of an approved regimen prior to interrogation, as other accused Abu Ghraib guards have claimed.

He said he saw those prisoners being physically mistreated and sexually humiliated, but that he failed to help them or report the abuse, as required under military law. He also admitted lying to an Army investigator by denying his misdeeds and stating that he never struck a detainee in anger.

Davis also spoke about the dangers faced by the guards at Abu Ghraib, including daily mortar attacks and prisoners armed with homemade knives. He blamed that high level of stress for his wrongful acts.

The recording was the only evidence offered by prosecutors during the sentencing phase, which is scheduled to take at least two days.

Bergrin has said he will call several witnesses, likely including Davis, and that he will play video-recorded testimony from three Iraqi detainees who say that Davis treated them well at Abu Ghraib.

"When they were cold, he kept them warm," Bergrin said of his client. "When they wanted to pray, he let them."

The first of those detainees described Davis in his brief recorded testimony as a "peaceful man."

"He used to make us laugh and he practiced sports with us," said Omas Jalal, a Baghdad man being held at Abu Ghraib on kidnapping charges.

Davis, serving with the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, said he was upset because a female soldier had been hit in the face with a brick during a disturbance in a nearby prison tent camp, and that he took out his anger on the prisoners.

"I just lost it," said Davis, who stands about 6-foot-1 and weighs nearly 220 pounds. "I wasn't trying to hurt them. I was just trying to scare them, but I did it."

Five other soldiers have already pleaded guilty in the case and have been sentenced. Two others _ Spc. Sabrina Harman and Pfc. Lynndie England _ still face trial.

The only case to reach trial was that of Pvt. Charles Graner, described as the abuse ringleader. Graner was convicted in January on five abuse-related counts and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.