BAGHDAD — Many Iraqis interviewed here Wednesday were harshly critical of the court-martial proceeding against U.S. Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits and the one-year prison sentence handed down by a military judge, saying the punishment was light given the abuse of Iraqi detainees.
The Iraqis denounced the court-martial of Sivits, the first member of the 372nd Military Police Company tried in the prison scandal, as a show trial designed to convince them that the Americans were taking action.
"I thought it would be a fair trial and that it would be held in front of the detainees so that they could see they had rights," said Salim Kamal, 30, a money changer in the wealthy Mansour district. "But they did it just to satisfy American public opinion.
"Punishment should be done," he said, "and I prefer the death penalty."
Sivits pleaded guilty to three charges related to the mistreatment of detainees and the failure to prevent other soldiers from committing abuses. In addition to the one-year prison sentence, the maximum allowed under a plea bargain, he was reduced in rank to private and dismissed from the Army.
The trial seems to have deepened doubts among Iraqis interviewed about American intentions in their country. But the attention they paid to the proceeding left open the possibility that perhaps, as other trials are held, the U.S. military might yet convince them that the guilty will be punished.
For now, however, many expressed resentment over the speed of the trial and the sentence handed down.
The American cause might have been hurt by a decision to not televise the trial. It was one thing to hear about Sivits' apology to the Iraqis — perhaps the most emotional moment in the trial — and another to see it.
"We want to hear the truth. Why didn't they allow that to be told in public?" asked Saad Jahar Allah, 45, a supermarket owner. Then he voiced his real fear: that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would get off lightly if he ever comes to trial.
"I'm afraid that they are going to deal in the same way with the big trial of Saddam," he said.
Ahmed Zaid Ahmed, 36, a trader, said he had eagerly watched satellite channel Al Jazeera for news of the trial but was disappointed to see a single drawing by a court artist and to hear none of the proceeding, as recording devices were barred.
"I saw on Al Jazeera just a drawing of a soldier sitting in front of a judge without any words," said Ahmed, sounding puzzled.
"The Americans make the whole thing sound very simple and easy, but it has had a big meaning inside us," he said. "We, as Iraqis, and myself as well, we want to know: Why did he do such things? Who pushed him to do such things and what was the point? At least if we were to have heard his answers, we would feel gratified. But this has not happened and that has made us so upset."
Nidhal Ahmad, a 44-year-old engineer and mother of three, summed up the intense pain that many Iraqis say they feel about the abuse, and their deep need to regain their sense of dignity.
Turning her face away, she said of Sivits: "Convey my tears to him, convey them. The punishment is not enough because this is a shame that no Iraqi deserve to sustain even if he was a criminal."
Ahmad went on to voice what many Iraqis believe: that the abuse is part of a broad conspiracy against Iraqis.
"You see, it's a matter of a preset goal, which is to insult all Iraqis, to ruin the feelings of the [anti-American] resistance in order to curb it," she said. "A man who underwent such humiliation can no longer raise his head up among his family and his fellow citizens."
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times