Army portrays England as rogue soldier

Photos of Iraq prisoners were taken `just for fun'

August 04, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Military prosecutors began laying out their case against one of the central figures in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal yesterday, casting Pfc. Lynndie R. England as a rogue soldier who performed sex acts in personal photos and told Army investigators that she was photographed with Iraqi detainees arranged in sexually humiliating positions "just for fun."

England, 21, who is seven months' pregnant by another soldier accused in the scandal, appeared far more subdued than the young reservist who gained worldwide notoriety for grinning and giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign near a pile of naked Iraqis and holding a leash tied around the neck of a nude detainee sprawled on the prison floor.

Defense attorneys countered the military's portrayal of England, suggesting pointedly that investigators focused too narrowly on the few soldiers shown in the photographs and missed broader, systemic abuse under the direction of military intelligence officers.

In court yesterday, Army Special Agent Paul D. Arthur testified that in the first statement she gave to investigators last January - three months before the scandal erupted publicly - England said that military intelligence had suggested "roughing up" two or three detainees who were brought to the prison and suspected of raping a 15-year- old boy.

But Arthur later said she was the only member of the unit to describe that scenario to him. He also testified that most of the prisoners depicted in the photographs were common criminals without high intelligence value.

England dismissed the photos that would later outrage the world as the joking antics of frustrated soldiers looking to relieve wartime stress, Arthur said.

"They didn't think it was that big a deal, " he testified. "They were just joking around during the night shift."

Arthur's testimony opened what is expected to be a four-day Article 32 hearing to determine whether England, who served in Iraq with the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, will face a court-martial. So far, she is the only soldier accused in the scandal to have a court hearing in the United States.

Six other members of the unit also have been charged in the abuses. One of the accused, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, pleaded guilty and could testify this week at England's hearing. The others are awaiting court proceedings in Iraq, where they remained this week even as the rest of their unit returned Monday to Fort Lee, Va.

England faces 13 charges involving alleged abuse of detainees and six related to personal photographs that show her performing sexual acts with her wartime boyfriend, Spc. Charles A. Graner, according to testimony yesterday. If convicted on all counts, England could be sentenced to 38 years in military prison.

Special Agent Warren Worth, who worked with Arthur on the Army's initial probe of detainee abuse allegations, testified that authorities searching a computer seized during the investigation found files containing the photos of England and Graner, who defense lawyers have identified as the father of her child.

In one photo, Worth said, England was pictured topless, posing above an unidentified male soldier who was asleep.

England, wearing a black beret and a woodland camouflage uniform, showed little reaction as Worth testified about the personal photographs just before the lunch recess. Her mother, Terrie England of Fort Ashby, W.Va., sat a few rows away in the small courtroom.

Neither woman returned to court in the afternoon. Attorneys for England and for the government said England had gone to see her doctor because she was not feeling well. One of her lawyers, Richard Hernandez, said he expected England to be back in court this morning and that she is dealing with the case as best as she can.

"She's as stressed as anyone else would be if you were a 20-, 21-year-old lady who's facing 30 years for pictures, intimate photographs that you would see at Mardi Gras, on spring break," Hernandez said, referring to the photos of England and Graner. "These are private, intimate photos that should have been kept that way."

Hernandez said England and Graner are not in touch.

"I don't think they've had any contact for a significant amount of time," he said.

Since the scandal erupted, England and her lawyers have suggested that the detainee abuses came at the direction of superior officers, none of whom have been charged by the government or named directly by the accused soldiers.

England's attorneys posed questions yesterday raising the issue of similar abuse allegations at other Iraqi prisons and the presence of at least three military intelligence officers and one contract translator in the photographs that led to the charges against England and other members of her military police unit.

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