Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the young Army reservist who has become one of the most visible faces in the growing Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, was formally charged yesterday with conspiring with her wartime boyfriend to mistreat detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
England, 21, who was shown in photographs holding a leash tied to the neck of a naked prisoner and pointing at the genitals of another, faces four criminal charges, officials with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., said last night.
She is accused of conspiring to mistreat detainees with another reservist, Cpl. Charles Graner, who was her boyfriend in Iraq. Her family said at a news conference yesterday that England is four months pregnant with Graner's child.
The young soldier is a polarizing figure in what has become an international nightmare for the Bush administration. Although the photos that show her smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign over naked and humiliated inmates have outraged the nation, her family and friends insist that England was following orders from higher-ranking officers - none of whom face criminal charges.
"That's not the type of person she is," England's sister, Jessica Kleinstiner, told reporters yesterday in Fountain, W.Va., before the military announced the charges against England. "If any one of you would need money for anything, my sister would give you money without wanting money in return - that's how she is."
A young woman who answered the telephone last night at England's home in Fort Ashby, W.Va., declined to comment or identify herself. "I'm not supposed to say anything about anything right now," she said.
Six other members of England's Army Reserve unit, the Cresaptown, Md.-based 372nd Military Police Company, also face criminal charges in connection with the abuse scandal. Those soldiers, including Graner, all remain in Iraq.
Six of their supervisors have received career-ending reprimands from the military.
England was reassigned this year to a military police unit at Fort Bragg, where she has been awaiting word on what penalties she could face.
Authorities at Fort Bragg announced in a statement late yesterday that, in addition to the conspiracy charge, England is also accused of assaulting Iraqi detainees on "multiple occasions," committing an indecent act, and committing acts that could "bring discredit upon the armed forces."
England, who is not in pretrial confinement, is expected to continue her duties with the Fort Bragg police unit, authorities said last night. A military defense attorney is expected to be appointed to her case.
The charges against England must first be vetted during an Article 32 hearing - the equivalent of a preliminary hearing in the military court system. A commanding officer would then decide whether England should be court-martialed.
Lt. Col. Billy J. Buckner, a spokesman at Fort Bragg, said last night that no court proceedings had been scheduled.
An attorney for England's family, Roy Hardy, said at yesterday's news conference that "no one has the full story of what was going on in those pictures" - suggesting that there were orders and pressure from higher-ranking officers. "They don't show what was behind her, beside her or what was going on behind the scenes," Hardy said.
Kleinstiner said the photos also do not show the gentle, up-for-anything spirit of her sister.
"She would help you if you needed help moving. She would be over to help lift a big couch or something. It wouldn't matter," Kleinstiner said. "All you have to do is call, and she would drop everything she's doing to help you."