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Posted: 1/8/2005 3:11:04 AM EDT

FORT HOOD, United States (AFP) - Jurors at a court martial at a Texas military base have acquitted an army sergeant of manslaughter charges in the drowning death of an Iraqi civilian but convicted him of assaulting the man.

Sergeant First Class Tracy Perkins was accused of forcing Zidoun Fadel Hassoun to jump in the Tigris river in Baghdad as punishment for violating a curfew in Samarra in January 2004.

But the defense argued it wasn't clear that the Iraqi civilian had died in the incident.

Army criminal investigators questioned during the four-day trial at the Fort Hood base admitted they lacked the resources to fully probe the alleged death.

The defense also argued that the nature of hostilities in Iraq meant US troops needed to find effective ways to deter crime.

The six-man military jury cleared Perkins of manslaughter charges but convicted him of assault, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six months.

Also Friday, a soldier seen as the ringleader of detainee abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison appeared before a military judge at Fort Hood, as his court martial started with the selection of a 10-man jury.

Specialist Charles Graner is seen on several of the photographs soldiers took of themselves standing by naked Iraqi prisoners. He pleaded not guilty to the charges of mistreatment of prisoners, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 17 and a half years.

Three former Iraqi detainees are to testify by videotape at the trial. Also on the witness list is Specialist Joseph Darby, who blew the whistle on the scandal that stirred worldwide outrage.

Civilian lawyer Guy Womack said the defense would be based on the argument that Graner was "following orders."

He argued the prison guards had been encouraged to "soften up" prisoners ahead of interrogation, and insisted those who gave the orders are the ones who should be on trial, and not the low-ranking soldiers who have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Womack said he expected officers "to lie about it," and said a number of others "are invoking their right to remain silent."

Among the allegations against Graner is that he forced prisoners to masturbate in front of each other to simulate oral sex, and photographed the acts. He is also accused of beating prisoners.

He is also alleged to have taken the now infamous picture in which another prison guard, Lynndie England, dragged a detainee on a leash. England, who recently gave birth to a child thought to have been fathered by Graner, has also been charged.
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