Reservist awaits report in Iraq prison abuse hearing

England's defense lawyers expect case to go to trial

September 01, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Military lawyers concluded a pretrial hearing yesterday in the case of Pfc. Lynndie R. England, who became one of the most visible figures in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal that authorities now say reached well beyond her and other low-ranking Army reservists.

The hearing's presiding officer, Col. Denise J. Arn, said she would issue a report in about a week recommending whether England, 21, should face a full court-martial on charges of detainee mistreatment and indecent acts.

Defense attorneys said matter-of-factly that they do not expect any other result.

England's lawyers have sought to portray the abuse as being directed by higher-ranking military intelligence officers, a defense strategy bolstered by the release last week of two Pentagon reports that portrayed the scandal as far-reaching and faulted high-ranking military leaders.

"Obviously, Pfc. England was not acting alone," lead defense attorney Richard A. Hernandez told reporters yesterday.

But the recent Pentagon findings might do little to help England.

Testimony from Army investigators and fellow soldiers from the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company portrayed England as an out-of-control desk clerk who was at the prison cellblock only because she sneaked there at night to visit her boyfriend, Spc. Charles A. Graner, the alleged ringleader in the scandal.

Capt. Crystal Jennings, a military prosecutor, told Arn yesterday that no evidence linked England to any military intelligence activity or suggested she participated in abuses on the orders of higher officers.

"She was there to have some fun," Jennings said. "There is no evidence that there was a legitimate military exercise that was going on."

England, who is now about eight months' pregnant, is shown in one widely circulated photograph grinning and pointing at the genitals of a naked detainee. In another, she is holding a leash tethered to a naked detainee who is lying on the cellblock floor.

In the only abuse scandal case to go to court in this country so far, England faces 19 charges involving detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib and indecent acts related to personal photographs that show her topless and engaging in sexual acts with Graner.

If convicted, she could be sentenced to 38 years in military prison.

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