Private England Pleads Guilty to Abuses

Published: May 3, 2005  (must register to view original article)

KILLEEN, Tex., May 2 - Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the Army reservist who personified the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal by gleefully posing with naked Iraqi detainees, pleaded guilty on Monday to seven of nine criminal counts, telling a military court, "I knew it was wrong."

Standing just over five feet tall and speaking almost inaudibly, with little emotion, Private England testified in court at Fort Hood that she went along with the demands of a fellow soldier, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., thinking "it was just for his personal amusement."

Private England, 22, who appeared at her court-martial in her dress green uniform and clutching a maroon beret, could receive up to 11 years in prison. But as part of an expected plea deal, she should face no more than 30 months behind bars, people involved in the prosecution of the abuse cases, who could not speak publicly because of military rules, said last week.

Hearings on her sentence are scheduled to begin here Tuesday before a jury of up to nine officers and enlisted personnel.

Private England is one of seven soldiers implicated in the abuse scandal, which erupted in 2003 with the emergence of photographs showing American and coalition troops humiliating stripped Iraqis in disturbing and sexually suggestive poses. All seven were reservists with the 372nd Military Police Company based in Cresaptown, Md.

Specialist Graner, 36, who has been identified as Private England's former lover in Iraq and the father of the baby boy she gave birth to in October, went on trial here in January. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Specialist Graner has married another of the accused, Megan Ambuhl, who pleaded guilty in exchange for dismissal from the military. Three other soldiers have pleaded guilty and been given prison terms of six months to eight years, and one more is scheduled to go on trial here next week.

Often swiveling absent-mindedly in her chair between her two lawyers, Capt. Jonathan Crisp and Rick Hernandez, a civilian, Private England spoke haltingly when questioned by the military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, who also presided over the other Abu Ghraib cases.

Judge Pohl asked her about a series of photographs central to the charges of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of subordinates and indecent acts. They showed Private England holding a leash around the neck of a naked Iraqi prisoner, posing with a group of naked Iraqis who had been forced to simulate masturbation and with a pyramid of naked detainees, pointing at the genitals of a prisoner, and standing by another prisoner with the word "rapeist" written on his exposed buttocks.

"Did you think any of this was wrong?" the judge asked. "Why were you doing it?"

At first Private England spoke so quietly that the judge prompted her to speak up, complaining that his court reporter could not hear.

"He asked me to," she said, referring to Specialist Graner.

Asked about the episode with the leash, Private England contended it was for her fellow soldiers' amusement. But she said, "It was not only morally wrong, it was legally wrong."

Pressed by Judge Pohl why she thought it was wrong, she said, "Because it was humiliating him."

When he asked her about the human pyramid, she said Specialist Graner had come up with the idea "as a way to control them."

The judge also asked about the image showing her pointing at a prisoner's genitals.

"I refused at first," she said. "No, no way. I didn't want to point at his genitals."

He interjected, "Then why did you change your mind?"

"They were being very persistent, bugging me," she said, "so I said, 'O.K., whatever.' "

Judge Pohl asked who "they" were.

"I can't remember which one," she replied.

Throughout the questioning, Private England held whispered consultations with her lawyers, answering the judge at one point, "It was more or less peer pressure."

At times Judge Pohl appeared exasperated with her answers. "Could you have chosen to walk away?" he asked.

"I could have," she said, repeating, "I was yielding to peer pressure."

He continued to press her. "Do you believe any of this conduct was in any way encouraged by a chain of command?" he asked.

"No, sir," she said.

The two military prosecutors, Capt. Chris Graveline and Capt. Chuck Neill, made no presentation but objected to a defense move to introduce witnesses in the sentencing phase to back up claims that Private England had learning disabilities and mental health problems. The judge said he would rule on Tuesday.

Walking past a crowd of photographers, cameramen and reporters, Private England made no comment entering or leaving the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center, the command prosecuting the charges.