Abu Ghraib soldier barred from returning amid fears for safety

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The Independent US

A soldier convicted of abusing detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has been stopped from returning to the country for a further tour of duty after news of the deployment hit the headlines in America.

US military commanders said they were concerned for the soldier's safety following the publicity.

Specialist Santos Cardona, a dog handler during his assignment at Abu Ghraib, was convicted in June of using his dog to assault a prisoner at the jail outside Baghdad.

He left Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, on Monday with the 23rd Military Police Company and had been preparing to move into Iraq from Kuwait when a reporter called to ask about the deployment.

When the news spread, senior commanders called a halt, fearing he and his unit could be targeted by insurgents because of his role at Abu Ghraib.

"The commanders in country have stopped his movement forward into Iraq," said Paul Boyce, an army spokesman at the Pentagon. "We are of course extremely concerned as well in light of the publicity about his situation for his personal situation. It could potentially endanger other soldiers in his unit."

The Army had no immediate explanation as to why Cardona's unit commanders had planned to deploy him.

The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light after pictures were released of the incidents in 2004.

Cardona was demoted from sergeant, sentenced to 90 days of hard labour and fined $7,200 (£3,787) by a court martial for his role in the scandal.

He was convicted of failing to handle his dog properly and using the unmuzzled Belgian shepherd to threaten an inmate with a force "likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm." The dog was allowed to bark within inches of prisoners' faces.

The Army said Cardona, who will remain in Kuwait, was no longer a member of a canine unit and his specific duties in Iraq had not been determined when his deployment was halted.

Time magazine reported that he had told friends he dreaded his redeployment.