VILSECK, Germany — A court-martial panel Thursday sentenced a military police platoon leader who acknowledged striking three Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad last summer to a reprimand and a fine in one of the first cases of alleged prison abuse to come to trial.
First Lt. Glenn A. Niles Jr., 31, of the 615th Military Police Company, tearfully pleaded guilty to a charge of conduct unbecoming an officer for his outburst July 30, 2003, at the Al Taji police station in Baghdad. As part of a plea agreement, he was acquitted on three counts of cruelty and mistreatment of the prisoners.
The fine totaled $12,036, and a formal reprimand typically halts an officer’s career. But the 10-member panel of officers heeded the pleas of Niles and his lawyer, Capt. Robert Stelle, that he not be imprisoned or dismissed from the Army.
“It’s certainly a victory for the defense, and a very just result,” Stelle said.
The military co-prosecutor, Capt. Brian Sardelli, also praised the panel’s conclusion.
“Lieutenant Niles is a stellar officer who snapped for about four or five seconds,” he said. “I think the sentence fairly reflects what Lieutenant Niles did.”
Niles had joined the Army in November 2000 after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in counseling and working several years as a drug-abuse counselor, according to testimony from his wife, Tamara.
He already had been the leader of 615th MP Company’s 1st Platoon for 18 months when his unit deployed to Iraq from its home base in Grafenwöhr, Germany, in March 2003. Three months later, Niles’ platoon was assigned to train Iraqi police recruits at Al Taji. They worked 12- to 16-hour days, seven days a week, without relief from the stifling heat, said soldiers in the unit.
The police station included a small jail to temporarily hold criminal suspects. On July 29, the police brought in three men — Ahmed Galid Jodair, Muhsin Ali Mundi and Hidar Abdulameer — who were suspected of stealing a car and killing its owner.
That night, said Staff Sgt. Richard Goolie, a 1st Platoon squad leader, Niles learned that the three men had tried unsuccessfully to escape by punching a hole through the wall of the jail with a pipe.
The next morning at the jail, Niles told Goolie and two other soldiers to bring the three Iraqis into the room where the hole had been cut. Goolie said Niles lined the three prisoners up and shouted repeatedly at the men, “Did you do this?” but they didn’t understand.
Then, Goolie said — demonstrating for the court on one of the prosecutors — Niles grabbed the first man by the shoulder with his left hand and slugged him with his right. He did the same to the second. As Goolie jumped to restrain his platoon leader, the third prisoner fell to his knees and pleaded, “No, no!” but Niles kicked him in the shoulder.
Shocked, the three soldiers escorted Niles out of the room. Goolie said he had never, before or since, seen a soldier hit a prisoner.
“I told him not to ever put myself or my soldiers into that position again,” he said.
Lt. Col. John Garrity, the battalion commander, said he transferred Niles to his headquarters staff after the incident, and he served well until the unit returned to Germany in February. He said the incident seemed isolated, and it wasn’t even mentioned in his evaluation report.
Numerous soldiers and officers who served alongside Niles praised him. They blamed the incident on the extreme stress of working in hot, dusty Baghdad, a city riddled with anti-coalition insurgents.
“I don’t condone his behavior or what he did,” Garrity said. “[But] Lieutenant Niles could work for me anytime, anywhere.”
Although preliminary charges were filed last September, the case languished until this spring, about the same time news broke of the much more serious systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
An Article 32 hearing officer in May recommended Niles be reprimanded. But Brig. Gen. Robert Williams, the court-martial convening authority for Army units in northern Bavaria, ordered a general court-martial instead.
Niles could have been sentenced to as much as one year in prison and dismissal from the Army — akin to a dishonorable discharge for enlisted troops.
Sardelli argued for a sentence stiff enough to deter others from beating prisoners. He accused the MPs of hiding and minimizing Niles’ abuse.
“He’s an officer — a police officer, an MP, who, in front of his subordinates, beats Iraqis, beats detainees,” Sardelli told the panel. “This case is bigger than Lieutenant Niles, bigger than an assault. … Send a message that this type of conduct is not tolerated. We don’t treat Iraqis like dogs.”
Stelle urged mercy for a man he described as showing “duty, honor and courage” but who snapped under stress.
“I’d never ask you to excuse what Lieutenant Niles did, but I’d ask you to understand how it happened,” Stelle said. “He crossed the line. He made a mistake.”