MANNHEIM, Germany — An Army judge threatened to dismiss charges against one of the alleged ringleaders in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal unless the government speeds up several key investigations into the case.

The military judge, Col. James Pohl, told prosecutors he would “seriously consider” dropping charges against Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., an Army reservist with the 322nd Military Police Company, unless significant progress was made in releasing four reports by Sept. 10.

Guy Womack, a retired Marine colonel who is representing Graner, said the investigations will help prove his client is being turned into a scapegoat for the Army.

Womack said that Graner and the other MPs charged in the case were simply following orders from senior Army brass and civilian contractors at Abu Ghraib.

Womack points to Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, who was responsible for overseeing the intelligence contractors, as the real culprit in the scandal.

Womack said Col. Thomas Pappas of the Darmstadt, Germany-205th Military Intelligence Brigade, another leader at the prison at the time, was likely involved as well.

“This may go all the way to [V Corps commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez, but frankly I doubt it,” Womack told Stars and Stripes.

Womack had been slated to depose Sanchez at his Heidelberg headquarters on Thursday and Friday, but at the last minute, he said, Sanchez canceled the interview without explanation.

“I think he’s just trying to avoid us,” said Womack.

Womack had also hoped to interview Pappas under oath in Germany, but the intelligence officer “exercised his constitutional right not to incriminate himself,” said Womack.

V Corps officials in Germany were unable to comment on Sanchez’s schedule or Pappas’ decision and referred questions to a Baghdad-based Army spokesman. He was unavailable for comment.

Graner, however, had no choice. He appeared before Pohl on Monday in preliminary hearings in Taylor Barracks in Mannheim. Pohl dismissed motions by Womack to suppress evidence found on the laptop of the 35-year-old military policeman.

The hearing was one of four slated Monday and Tuesday. Sgt. Javal S. Davis, Spc. Megan M. Ambuhl and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick also are scheduled to appear.

The next round of pretrial hearings in Graner’s case is slated for Oct. 21 in Baghdad. Those hearings will address whether top leaders in Iraq, including Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, who replaced Sanchez as commander of warfighting units in Iraq, have improperly tried to influence the legal proceedings against Graner.

In the meantime, Pohl said, he wants to see progress on the four investigations.

One of those investigations, a report by Maj. Gen. George Fay into the abuse at the prison, was supposed to be released last month, said Army prosecutors.

The report is now with the commander of the Army Materiel Command, Gen. Paul Kern, said prosecutors, where it is being briefed to top Army leaders before its release.

Several news organizations in recent days already have reported its major findings.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command also is investigating several of its own agents for possible abuse, said prosecutors.

Included in that probe is a review of hundreds of thousands of documents passed on the classified computer server used by military officials at the prison complex.

Two more reports are also in the works, one by the Defense Department inspector general and another by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger for the Department of Defense.

Both are expected to be released in the lead-up to congressional hearings, now slated for Sept. 9.

Pohl also denied requests for a permanent change in venue for the trials.

Defense attorneys want to move the trials from Baghdad — where they’re expected to begin next year — to either Germany or the United States.

Pohl added, however, that the motion was “premature” and would be willing to reconsider the request as the actual trial approaches.

Womack argues that few — if any — of the two dozen reservists he hopes to call as witnesses will be willing to travel to Iraq for the trial.

“And we can’t compel them to come,” he said.

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