| Charles Graner is escorted to military prison in handcuffs after his court-martial in Texas. (AFP)
Fort Hood (Texas), Jan. 16 (Reuters): A military jury sentenced Specialist Charles Graner to 10 years in prison yesterday for his leading role in the 2003 Abu Ghraib torture of Iraqi prisoners, five years less than the maximum sentence possible.
The sentencing at a central Texas military base came a day after a jury found Graner guilty on 10 counts related to the abuses, many of which were documented in photographs that included naked prisoners stacked into a pyramid and being forced to masturbate.
Graner showed no reaction when the sentence was read out and appeared calm before he was taken to prison. Asked if he regretted abusing prisoners, Graner paused, then said: 'Maybe you missed that there's a war on. Bad things happen in war. Apparently, I followed an illegal order.'
In his first public remarks on the scandal earlier in the day, Graner told the 10 jurors he had acted wrongly, but said he complained repeatedly to superiors and was told to continue rough treatment.
In two-and-a-half hours of testimony at the sentencing hearing, Graner smiled from time to time and spoke confidently as he detailed his role in the scandal that delivered a powerful blow to the US image abroad. 'I didn't enjoy anything I did there. A lot of it was wrong, a lot of it was criminal,' said Graner, 36, the first soldier to go on trial in the abuse case.
The former Pennsylvania prison guard was convicted on charges including conspiracy, assault and indecent acts.
'The enemy needs rallying points,' prosecutor Major Michael Holley said in arguing for the maximum 15-year penalty. 'The accused has provided so much in that regard.'
Graner received a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
Graner, seen grinning in photos of abuses such as stacking a pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees, said gallows humor was the only way to deal with the harsh environment at Abu Ghraib, once Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison. 'There was a lot of things that we did that were so screwed up, if we didn't look at them as funny then there was no way to deal with it,' he said.
'When I knew someone would take a picture, I'd be smiling; that's the only explanation I have.' Graner said he complained repeatedly to superiors about the rough treatment he says he was forced to mete out to prisoners. 'We were not treating prisoners the way we were supposed to so I complained about it,' he said.'I never stopped complaining.'