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Germany

Iraq Prisoner Abuse Hearing in Germany

Four US soldiers accused of abusing prisoners at a notorious jail in Iraq, including the suspected ringleader, face a military hearing in Germany on Monday, before their trial by court martial.

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The infamous Abu Ghraib prison

The four, Corporal Charles Graner, Specialist Megan Ambuhl, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Specialist Javal Davis, are accused of assault, coercion and conspiracy to mistreat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad.

The humiliation of the inmates, shown in souvenir-style photographs taken by some of the suspects, caused outrage around the world earlier this year and has undermined the reputation of the United States, above all in Muslim countries.

It is a scandal that has seen blame pushed from a group of guards up through the military echelons but it has failed to claim any high-ranking official's job, although it has embarrassed US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Lawyers refused to travel to Iraq

During the two-day hearing known as an Article 39a session, a military judge will hear witnesses, take evidence and deal with procedural matters relating to the four.

The hearing was moved to Mannheim, Germany in the south of the country after some defense lawyers refused to take part in Iraq for security reasons.

"This is a one-time only arrangement -- all future proceedings will be held in Baghdad unless the military judge grants a venue change at a later date," the US military in Mannheim said in a statement.

The hearing in Germany follows a similar court procedure in the United States for Private Lynndie England, who was pictured holding a leash around the neck of a naked detainee, which has been halted so more witnesses can be called.

Intelligence officers, doctors involved in abuse?

It also coincides with leaks of a vast military report that is expected to conclude that intelligence officers were present when some of the abuse happened and failed to report it, according to US media.

The report is likely to recommend that a number of officers, along with the seven already accused from the 372nd Military Police Company, also be charged.

In the British medical journal Lancet, published Saturday, a study also found US army doctors were to blame, saying they had designed abusive interrogation methods and failed to report deaths triggered by beatings.

Focus on Graner

Attention in the hearings will focus on Graner, who was photographed smiling, arms folded behind a hill of naked prisoners and whom England says is the father of her unborn son.

Witnesses in the hearing of England, who faces up to 38 years in jail if a court martial is ordered, said that the abuses at the prison usually started in the evening when Graner was in charge of the cell block.

"It is my impression... that Graner was the ringleader of the abuse," said one army investigator.

Frederick was also singled out in England's hearing as a possible organizer.

Her lawyer has said she has been made a scapegoat for the army and that senior officers at the jail encouraged rough treatment and abuse to soften detainees up; a defence likely to be employed by the accused in Mannheim.

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