The hearing will clear up any legal technicalities before Charles Graner, Ivan Frederick and Javal Davis stand trial, facing sentences of up to 24 years.

Davis’ lawyer, Paul Bergrin, claimed ‘improper command’ was behind the abuse. He said harsh treatment was encouraged by senior officers, and spoke of a defective chain of command leading all the way to President Bush. Soldiers facing abuse charges have claimed to be following orders to ‘soften up’ prisoners prior to interrogation by US intelligence officers.

A military judge agreed that the defence team of one of the accused US soldiers will be allowed to question leading American generals.

The judge ruled at the hearing that the head of US-led forces in Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez, and other senior officials could be summoned as witnesses.