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Military judge delays court-martial start for Abu Ghraib dog handlers

[JURIST] US military judge Lt. Col. Paul McConnell Monday delayed the start of a court-martial trial for an army dog handler accused in an Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. The March 8 trial date for Sgt. Santos Cardona has been pushed back to May 22 to allow the defense more time to prepare. Cardona is charged with dereliction of duty and maltreatment of detainees in connection with his use of unmuzzled dogs [JURIST report] during prisoner interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] in December 2003 and January 2004.

Sgt. Michael Smith also faces court-martial after the two officers were accused of using the dogs in a competition to see who could scare the most prisoners, resulting in the biting of two Iraqi detainees [JURIST report]. Defense attorneys argue that the soldiers' use of the dogs was approved by officials high in the chain of command, and the two were just following orders. If convicted, Cardona faces up to 16 1/2 years in prison, and Smith could receive a sentence of up to 29 1/2 years. AP has more. The US Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner said earlier this month that his committee would look into disparate statements on the use of dogs against prisoners [JURIST report] at Abu Ghraib after former prison commander Maj. General Geoffrey Miller made apparently inconsistent remarks. Citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Miller has declined to testify [AFP report] in the present case.

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