FORT MEADE, Maryland - A US Army sergeant was found guilty today of assaulting a prisoner with his dog at Abu Ghraib prison, becoming the 11th soldier convicted in the scandal that President George W. Bush called the biggest mistake of the US war in Iraq.
Sgt. Santos Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, California, was convicted on two out of nine counts against him -- failing to handle his dog properly and using the unmuzzled Belgian shepherd to threaten one detainee, Kamel Mizal Nayil, with a force "likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm."
He faces up to 3-1/2 years in prison.
Cardona was acquitted on charges of conspiring with a fellow guard to terrorise inmates into defecating and urinating on themselves.
The verdict comes as the military investigates new allegations that US Marines killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked attack in November in the town of Haditha.
Despite evidence during the court-martial of pressure from Washington to extract more information from prisoners, there are few signs that senior Army leaders or administration officials will be charged with condoning the abuse.
US Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who once ran the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, became the highest-ranking officer to testify in the scandal, but he denied urging the use of dogs as an interrogation method at Abu Ghraib.
Other witnesses testified that interrogators were under intense pressure to get information from a rapidly growing number of detainees as the Iraqi insurgency flared and that harsher techniques may have been silently condoned.
Cardona's civilian attorney, Harvey Volzer, said the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners was condoned by officers and that Cardona was a victim of a confused chain of command.
Prosecutors characterized Cardona and other guards on the night shift at Abu Ghraib as rogue "corrupt cops" who tormented detainees for amusement from late 2003 to early 2004.
Another Abu Ghraib dog handler, Sgt. Michael Smith, was convicted in March and sentenced to 179 days in jail. No soldier above the rank of staff sergeant has been convicted of abuse at Abu Ghraib. Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who headed the interrogation centre, is scheduled to become the first officer to face a court-martial on abuse charges.
The US government, which often justifies its foreign policy on the ground of improving human rights, was severely embarrassed when photographs showing prisoners being abused and sexually humiliated were leaked in 2004.