Reservist was coerced, lawyers say

Defense tries to exclude evidence against England in abuses at Abu Ghraib

December 02, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Attorneys for Pfc. Lynndie R. England told a military judge yesterday that the young Army reservist was sleep-deprived and coerced when she told investigators that Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad had been humiliated and photographed "just for fun."

Defense attorneys want three incriminating statements England made about the abuses thrown out by the presiding judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, before she stands trial in January in military court. Her lawyers also want to exclude the now-infamous photographs that show England flashing a thumbs-up sign near naked Iraqis and holding a leash tied to the neck of a nude detainee.

At a pretrial hearing yesterday, Army investigators said England was polite and cooperative in the earliest stages of the inquiry, even during an initial interview when she was roused from bed just after 2 a.m. and questioned through the night about the abuses that had been reported hours earlier by a fellow soldier from the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Western Maryland.

"I didn't notice any fear," said Special Agent Paul Arthur, an investigator with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command who first interviewed England last January. "I believe she was pretty much cooperative. ... She talked about the incidents, and then put it in writing in her own words."

Those words could haunt England at her court-martial next month, in which she could be sentenced to 38 years in prison if convicted on 19 charges involving detainee abuses and other indecent acts. At a hearing last summer, Arthur testified that England told him that night that the photos were taken by fellow soldiers who were just "joking around, having some fun, during the night shift."

England's lawyers argued yesterday that the statement should be excluded at trial because she was interviewed after little sleep and no food, and because she did not fully understand the rights she was giving up in talking to investigators.

They also want Henley to throw out a second statement England gave investigators the next day and a third statement given in early May, after the photographs had become public.

During questioning by Capt. John Crisp, England's military defense attorney, one of the two Army investigators who met with England in May acknowledged telling her before the interview that speaking to authorities could help quell the growing media attention surrounding the abuse scandal.

"Right now, everybody's only hearing one side of the story; this is your chance to tell your side of the story," Special Agent William Hughes recounted telling England.

Henley, the military judge, dryly asked Hughes' partner later whether the investigators had then turned a copy of England's statement over to the public affairs office at Fort Bragg. The answer was no - Special Agent James Stewart replied that he typically does not make public any documents from ongoing investigations.

Yesterday's pretrial hearing marked England's first appearance in a military courtroom since she gave birth in October to a son conceived while stationed at Abu Ghraib with another soldier from the 372nd accused in the abuse, Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr.

England, who turned 22 a month ago, has traded in her military maternity uniform for camouflage fatigues. But she remained characteristically silent and glum as military prosecutors urged Henley to keep her statements in evidence. Henley, who did not rule on the motion, is expected to hear arguments from defense lawyers today about the photographic evidence.

Defense attorneys gave some additional clues to their strategy, saying in court yesterday that they plan to have England meet with at least two mental health experts, who could testify that the soldier from Fort Ashby, W.Va., was unable to form the criminal intent necessary for conviction on some of the prisoner abuse charges.

England, who worked as an administrative clerk at Abu Ghraib prison, was one of seven soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company charged in the scandal. Three of the accused soldiers have pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from eight years in prison to a reduction in rank. A low-level military intelligence soldier shown in one of the photos also has pleaded guilty.

Three other members of the 372nd, including Graner, are awaiting military trials now scheduled to be held early next year at Fort Hood, Texas. Those three soldiers are expected to appear for the first time in a military courtroom in the United States over the weekend.

Although courtroom testimony and a string of Pentagon reports have suggested that the abuse scandal reached well beyond those low-ranking soldiers, no higher-ranking officers have been charged criminally. That could change, lawyers in England's case suggested yesterday in court.

After defense attorney Richard Hernandez said he wants to call as a witness Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who headed military intelligence operations at the prison, military prosecutor Capt. John Benson said that would be possible only with a grant of immunity because Pappas remains under investigation.

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