Iraq: convicted US Abu Ghraib dog torturer back to train police


Dog at Abu Ghraib jail

By Elizabeth Schulte:

An Iraqi prisoner cowering naked and terrified as a US soldier sics a dog on him.

This photo — along with others, for example, showing a hooded prisoner hooked up for electric shocks — exposed the barbarism of the US occupation of Iraq for the world to see.

Nonetheless, the Army seems to have forgotten about the torture when it reassigned one of the soldiers handling the vicious dogs back to Iraq.

Sergeant Santos Cardona, a military police officer from Fullerton, California, who served in 2003 and 2004 at Abu Ghraib as a dog handler, was assigned to return to Iraq.

His new assignment was to help train local Iraqi police.

Cardona was brought before a military court earlier this year and convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault.

A military judge sentenced him to a fine and demotion in rank.

Cardona spent no time behind bars, but served 90 days of hard labour at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

22 thoughts on “Iraq: convicted US Abu Ghraib dog torturer back to train police

  1. Neighbors recall former Nazi guard
    Lawrenceville man, 85, faces deportation for WWII past

    By BRIAN FEAGANS
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
    Published on: 10/06/07

    ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – Dawn Poff’s family never understood why their dogs went crazy at the sight of the tall, red-headed man who lived next door.

    When the man’s wife walked out of the brick ranch home south of Milwaukee, the two dogs didn’t let out a peep. Neighbors would pass – nothing. But the second the blue-eyed man with a German accent stepped outside, the dogs erupted into vicious growls.

    Paul Henss, 85, and his wife Else, 84, are interviewed at their Lawrenceville home Oct. 1, 2007.

    “They were German shepherds,” Poff says, standing along the maple-lined street where she grew up. “He was deathly afraid of them.”

    Last week Poff and the rest of the world learned that Paul Henss, now 85 and living near Lawrenceville, Ga., had heard those growls before. The U.S. government announced it was trying to deport Henss for training guards how to use attack dogs at two Nazi concentration camps. His specialty: German shepherds.

    Henss, who spoke to reporters Monday but has since declined to answer questions, said the Justice Department has exaggerated his role. Henss said he spent most of his time fighting on the front lines in Russia and, only as a brief side duty, served as a dog handler within the Nazi paramilitary organization known as the SS. He said he didn’t actually unleash the attack dogs on people and didn’t know what was going on inside the now-notorious Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, where roughly 93,000 people died.

    “It’s 65 years after it happened,” said the ailing Henss, who joined the Hitler Youth at age 12 and the Nazi Party at 18. Dazed, he stared into the TV cameras pointed into his Lawrenceville garage. Age had whitened his hair. His left foot was strapped into a medical boot. He used a cane.

    “Sixty-five years.”

    Most of that time has been spent in the United States. The German citizen buried his Nazi past beneath a half-century of America, from the blue-collar banks of Lake Michigan to the sparkling new suburbs of Atlanta. But once an Atlanta judge sets a date for his deportation hearing, Henss will be forced to dig up the details of that long-ago place he’s tried to forget.

    His story has sparked two very different responses. Some see an ailing old man who should be allowed to spend his last sunsets with his wife, daughter and grandchildren in Georgia. Others counter that letting him stay in the land of the free is like forgiving – or worse forgetting – atrocities of the past. Some things aren’t meant to fade from memory, they say, like a bloodthirsty bark.

    Life in Wisconsin

    Time seems to move in neat bundles around St. Francis, a punch-in, punch-out town of humble but well-kept homes. Friday night means fish fries. And at corner pubs, patrons throw darts in the glow of Pabst Blue Ribbon signs.

    Here, perfectly gridded streets meet Milwaukee to the north, Lake Michigan to the east and the airport to the

    west. To the south sits the hulking Patrick Cudahy meatpacking plant where Henss worked.

    With a lunch pail in his hand and a long stride at his feet, Henss would lope each morning down the sidewalks that lead to the plant, recalls Al Scheel, a former co-worker and neighbor. Henss worked in the shipping department, which oversaw deliveries of everything from German-style hard salami to White Champion brand shortening.

    Scheel, a 54-year-old Milwaukee native, says Henss was among the older European immigrants at the plant who would break along ethnic lines in the lunch hall. “Serbians were at one table,” Scheel says. “Polish at another. He’d sit at the German table.”

    Henss and his wife, Else, had come to America in 1955, three years after marrying in Germany. Else gave birth to a daughter, and townsfolk recall her working on the assembly line of a nearby paint supply company. The two made for nice neighbors, Scheel says, always quick with a smile – and a spade.

    “He was a real yard guy,” Scheel said, staring across East Armour Avenue at rounded bushes framing the broad front window where the Hensses lived. “It looked like it does now – only better. He always had flowers planted by the bushes then.”

    Knowing that their dog-shy neighbor loved gardening, Poff’s family built a chain-link fence dividing the side yards. It kept the snarling German shepherds at bay when Henss was outside.

    The family would even take the dogs with them on small errands, Poff said, to assure they didn’t scare Henss. Her parents “didn’t want Paul to feel fear all the time.”

    Poff, 45, recalls her father talking to Henss about World War II. But she doesn’t know what was said, and her father suffers from dementia now.

    Poff stands in stunned silence when told that, as a Nazi dog handler, Henss trained concentration camp guards how to use German shepherds. Come to think of it, she says, Henss would often mutter something in German to the dogs. But it was his fear she remembers most. He always seemed horrified.

    “Maybe,” she says, “it was flashbacks or something.”

    The race is on

    While Henss made his home in Wisconsin, a state with a long history of German immigration, the U.S. Justice Department in 1979 launched a special unit designed to expel from the United States people who participated in the Holocaust. Historians in the Office of Special Investigations poured through war documents and U.S. immigration records, trying to match the names of Nazi commanders, concentration camp personnel and the dog handlers who trained them.

    By the late 1990s, the office found itself in a sprint against time. The fall of Communist regimes opened the floodgates on wartime records. But perpetrators of the Holocaust were disappearing again, this time into the earth.

    Henss retired from the meatpacking plant and, 10 years ago, moved to Gwinnett County, Ga., where his daughter lives and works. He and Else bought a $130,000, one-story home on a cul-de-sac in Glen Oaks Racquet Club. Once again, they lived amid sidewalks and modest but tidy homes. Only here the gardening season was longer, and the German names were on the street signs, not the mailboxes.

    The Henss home is just up from Becker Court and Steffi Lane in the neighborhood themed after tennis champions.

    Henss added a screened-in porch. It was his sanctuary, a spot where he could sit in the evenings and admire a section of yard shaded by evergreens.

    Neighbors grew to know he and Else as avid gardeners who generally kept to themselves, said Nuzzu Syed, who lives two doors down. The couple waved while working in the yard and occasionally struck up a conversation in their thick German accents. “They told me they were from Germany,” Syed said, “and that he had served in the army.”

    By 2006, however, Henss had appeared on the Justice Department’s radar. And documents revealed what investigators call the critical role dog handlers played in the persecution of Jews. One Nazi memo directed the handlers to make “rapacious beasts” of the animals. “They must be trained,” the order from SS commander Heinrich Himmler said, “to tear apart anyone except for their handler.”

    Federal investigators contacted Henss and asked him to come for an interview at their Atlanta office. Earlier this year, on March 13, he did. Uncomfortable in traffic, Henss had his son-in-law drive.

    The Office of Special Investigations says Henss, in a sworn statement, admitted to serving as an armed SS guard. The government says Henss stated that he spent two to three months at both Dachau and Buchenwald, guarding forced labor details of prisoners and instructing other SS personnel on dog-handling techniques.

    In the aftermath, Else had a nervous breakdown, Henss said. And he found himself in and out of the hospital. He had contracted cancer, was left with just one kidney and suffered from a weak heart muscle.

    On Sept. 5, three days after his 85th birthday, Henss received a hand-delivered notice: The government had launched deportation proceedings against him.

    Judgment day

    Henss pulled up in a gray Cadillac Deville last Monday, returning home from lunch at the Golden Corral with Else. He found reporters and TV cameras waiting, alerted to his predicament by a news release issued by the Justice Department.

    He limped out of the front seat and, gripping a Cadillac keychain, towered over the reporters in his garage. Hunched with age, he was still quite tall. A bag of ant killer and a Black & Decker hedge trimmer lay at his feet.

    Else was in a panic, unsure what to do. She handed Henss a hearing aid, but he rejected it. “He is sickly,” she told reporters. “He is a good man.”

    Henss declared that while he trained dogs to attack those who tried to escape the concentration camps, he wasn’t around long enough to know what they were trying to escape from. Everyone in Germany knows what happened during the war was horrific and wrong, he said. “But the training of dogs – this is no crime.”

    Else grew increasingly hysterical. She collapsed into a nearby chair, then rose again at her husband’s back. “Outside,” she told him. “Out. You never was inside, Paul.”

    When news of the deportation notice reached Henss’ longtime neighbor, Scheel, he said he’s not so sure Henss should be kicked out of the country. “Sometimes you’re forced to do a lot of things during wartime,” he said. “That was probably his job. I’m sure he’s remorseful about what happened.”

    Across Atlanta, debate over what should be done with Henss spread from online message boards to radio talk shows to dinner tables.

    But in one primarily Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta, there were no questions. Helen Gerson, 79, spent five years in concentration camps, including Dachau and Buchenwald. Gerson survived but, years later, had to explain to her daughter why she had so few aunts, uncles and cousins.

    “Even today I can still hear the barking,” Gerson said. “We were so scared of those dogs. For no reason they would put those dogs on us. I’m sitting in my chair now, and shaking.”

    Gerson said even if Henss didn’t directly use dogs on prisoners, he certainly knew what they were supposed to do. “Get him back to Germany,” she said. “Don’t let him die in this beautiful country. He doesn’t deserve to be buried here.”

    ‘We like it here’

    The TV crews leave, and the rattled couple wanders back inside. “Oh, Paul,” Else says, hugging her husband. “What are we supposed to do?”

    They walk into the den and hit play on an answering machine. Reporters from Washington to Atlanta want to talk.

    Else begins to cry again. “We like it here.”

    A Statue of Liberty figurine sits atop the TV, right next to a stand holding both the U.S. and German flags. Henss and his wife face two aerial photos hanging on the wall. Else explains that one is of her hometown, the other of her husband’s.

    She begins to wail uncontrollably. And for the first time, so does Henss. The two embrace in tears. They are shaking.

    Some pieces of the past stay put in their frames. Others, however, come back.

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