Reservist in court in Iraq abuses

Aug. 3 hearing date set for England in Abu Ghraib prisoner mistreatment

July 13, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - More than two months after the first photographs of Iraqi prisoners enduring abuses under the watch of U.S. soldiers appeared, the young Army reservist who became a visible and polarizing figure in the ensuing scandal made her debut yesterday in a military courtroom.

Visibly pregnant and dressed in green camouflage fatigues, Pfc. Lynndie R. England was read her rights by a military judge during a five-minute hearing and quietly answered "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" to routine questions about whether she understood the charges against her.

The petite England, 21, leaned forward in her chair with her hands folded on the defense table - a far different scene from the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib prison showing England holding a leash tied to the neck of a naked Iraqi detainee and flashing a jaunty thumbs-up near a pile of naked prisoners.

It will now fall to the military courts to reconcile those images. Col. Denise Arn, the presiding judicial officer, set an Aug. 3 date for a hearing to determine whether England will face court-martial on 19 charges related to the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, which carry a maximum sentence of 38 years.

Military officials had planned to hold the preliminary hearing, known as an "Article 32" hearing, this week at Fort Bragg. It was postponed after England's civilian defense attorney, Richard A. Hernandez, asked to have Capt. John Crisp, a military defense lawyer, appointed to help with the case.

Crisp listened to yesterday's hearing by phone from Fort Jackson, S.C., but did not speak during the proceeding. Hernandez and the three military prosecutors also said little in court and declined to speak to reporters afterward.

Arn wrapped up the hearing almost as quickly as it began, saying: "This is as far as we're going to go today."

England left the military courtroom, flanked by her civilian defense team, without glancing at the dozen reporters and military officials in the gallery.

She faces 13 counts involving allegations of prisoner abuse, including that she conspired with her wartime boyfriend, Spc. Charles A. Graner, to mistreat detainees at the notorious prison outside Baghdad - and a charge related to the leashed prisoner photo.

Military officials added five more charges last week, accusing England of "creation and possession of sexually explicit photographs" and indecent acts. Army officials have said those charges do not involve Iraqi prisoners or nationals, indicating that England's private life could receive a public airing if the case goes forward.

Maj. Richard Patterson, an Army spokesman, said yesterday that a sixth additional charge was filed last week, accusing England of failing to obey an order from a noncommissioned officer.

England, who is six months' pregnant with Graner's child, was transferred from Iraq to Fort Bragg early this year. Up to now, she is the only one of the seven soldiers charged in the scandal to face military court proceedings in the United States.

England, who lives in tiny Fort Ashby, W.Va., is assigned to a desk job with a military police brigade here.

The accused all were members of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based near Cumberland, which was assigned to help guard Abu Ghraib prison last fall amid a rising insurgency and increased pressure on military intelligence officers to find out who was behind the attacks.

Attorneys for England and other accused soldiers from the 372nd have argued that the abuses seen in the widely circulated photographs were done at the behest of intelligence officers, who encouraged guards to beat detainees and force them into sexually humiliating positions to make them more likely to talk during interrogation.

High-ranking U.S. officials have said the accused are simply rogue guards who abused detainees out of boredom or depravity. The most recent charges against England, of indecent acts with another soldier and indecent exposure, could bolster that notion.

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