Mannheim, Germany The U.S. military judge hearing charges of prisoner abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison rejected a request Tuesday for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to submit to an interview, but said he would reconsider if the defense could show a Rumsfeld link to the case.
Judge Col. James Pohl also suggested he would compel top military intelligence commanders to testify unless prosecutors move forward with criminal charges against them by Sept. 17. So far, the commanders have refused to testify on grounds they could incriminate themselves.
The request to interview Rumsfeld and his deputy Stephen Cambone came from a lawyer for defendant Spc. Javal Davis at a pretrial hearing. While the judge rejected it, he said it could be brought back if the defense can fill in gaps.
"There's got to be some links in that chain," Pohl said.
Davis and the five other military police accused of abusing prisoners at the Baghdad prison insist they were following orders from military intelligence officers and civilian contractors.
Davis' civilian attorney, Paul Bergrin, asked the court to grant immunity from prosecution to Col. Thomas Pappas, the military intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib, and several other officers who may have known of abuse but refuse to talk to investigators, citing their right to avoid self-incrimination.
A grant of immunity could remove that obstacle, but prosecutor Maj. Michael Holly argued that the officers themselves could face charges after the military completes a report into the role of military intelligence at detention facilities, expected to be presented to the U.S Congress next month.
Additional testimony could broaden the case beyond the six low-ranking Army reservists and raise the possibility that intelligence officers and others within the military encouraged abuse to gain information about Iraqi insurgents battling U.S. troops.
Pohl gave the prosecution until Sept. 17 to convince him the officers should not be compelled to testify. He made it clear, however, that if the government does not intend to file major charges by then, he would probably grant the officers immunity.
"This would appear to be critical information to the defendants ... that this was condoned by the higher-ups," he told the prosecutors. "You know where this is going -- it's either pay me now or pay me later."
However, Pohl said Davis' defense had not presented enough evidence to establish that comments allegedly made by Rumsfeld authorizing rough treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay resulted in abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Later, Holly said he expected two U.S. military intelligence soldiers who worked at Abu Ghraib, Spc. Armin J. Cruz and Spc. Roman Krol, to be charged soon. Those would be the first charges against members of military intelligence.
Signs of a plea bargain emerged Tuesday for another defendant, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick. He was the senior enlisted officer at Abu Ghraib between October and December, when the mistreatment allegedly occurred.
Military prosecutors agreed to drop some charges after Frederick agreed to plead guilty to the rest at an Oct. 20 sentencing hearing in Baghdad, his lawyer, Gary Myers, said.
"He's taking responsibility for certain acts," Myers said.