MPs of 372nd testify against England

Sloppy work, night trysts are described at hearing

August 05, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Well before she emerged as one of the most visible figures in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, Pfc. Lynndie R. England was reprimanded repeatedly for disobeying orders and sneaking into the Abu Ghraib cellblock to visit her wartime boyfriend on his guard shift, her former supervisor testified yesterday.

The supervisor, Spc. Matthew Bolinger, also said England's work as a desk clerk processing inmates often was sloppy. Her roommate in Iraq said England frequently was absent in the night hours when she should have been asleep in bed. And a fellow soldier recounted a trip to Virginia Beach, Va., where England posed topless for photos.

As military lawyers here laid out a rebuttal of England's claims that the prisoner abuses were directed by higher-ranking intelligence officials, they were aided by members of the scandal-scarred 372nd Military Police Company who trained together in Western Maryland, served side-by-side in Iraq and lined up yesterday against their former fellow soldier.

"Her performance was not so good," Bolinger, England's direct supervisor at Abu Ghraib last year, testified in a military courtroom. "She had a lack of discipline about showing up to work on time, staying at work."

Bolinger was one of eight members of the 372nd - including a Baltimore City police officer - who testified via speakerphone from Fort Lee, Va., where they returned earlier this week from their deployment to a hero's welcome.

England is in a far different spotlight.

The 21-year-old Army reservist from Fort Ashby, W.Va., is for now the only one of seven soldiers accused in the scandal to face court proceedings in the United States.

This week's pretrial hearing in North Carolina will determine whether she faces a full court-martial on 19 charges of detainee abuse and indecent acts. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 38 years in military prison and a dishonorable discharge.

England appears in several of the photographs of Iraqi prisoners, who were stripped naked and arranged in sexually humiliating poses at Abu Ghraib last fall.

In one widely publicized photo, England is shown holding a leash tied to the neck of a naked detainee, who is lying on the prison floor. In another, a grinning England can be seen pointing to the genitals of a naked, hooded prisoner.

Personal life

Much of this week's testimony has focused on England's personal life, with government lawyers casting her as a willful, out-of-control soldier.

Now seven months pregnant by Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., another soldier accused in the scandal, England, 21, showed no expression yesterday as a former colleague and friend, Spc. Steve Strother, testified she posed topless and went skinny-dipping at Virginia Beach with Strother and Graner last year.

Strother also said England was photographed exposing her breasts near his face after he passed out drunk in a hotel room during the same trip.

Asked about the photograph by a military prosecutor, Strother replied in a sheepish voice on the speakerphone: "It was just a joke, ma'am."

England and her lawyers have argued that the abuses were directed by higher-ranking intelligence officers, who were under intense pressure late last year to develop sound intelligence leads as U.S. forces battled a growing insurgency. But the courtroom testimony has done little to back that claim.

An Abu Ghraib military intelligence officer who testified by phone yesterday from Iraq said military police guards served only in a support role for military intelligence and were not used for delicate interrogation tasks.

Chief Warrant Officer Edward Rivas said the prison guards were not used to "rough up" prisoners for interrogation. "No, sir. It's not doctrine," he told a military lawyer.

Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Snider, a member of the 372nd who oversaw military police guards at Abu Ghraib last fall, testified that his unit was directed by the facility's top intelligence officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, to assist with some detainee operations, such as transportation and sleep-deprivation techniques.

But Snider said such requests required written authorization and he never heard any military intelligence officers encourage the guards to "soften up" detainees for questioning, as soldiers accused in the scandal have claimed.

Bolinger also testified that England worked as a desk clerk at another building at the sprawling Abu Ghraib site. She had no duties in the cell area and did not report to anyone who worked there, he said.

But one fellow soldier, Spc. Matthew Wisdom, testified that he heard England make a lewd statement about a prisoner who appeared to be sexually excited one night last November when Wisdom said he briefly glimpsed some of the other now-accused soldiers stomping on detainees' toes and forcing prisoners to simulate sex acts with one another.

Yelling match

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