England statement can be used in trial

Judge's ruling a setback for Abu Ghraib guard

September 21, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

FORT HOOD, TEXAS -- A military judge ruled yesterday that prosecutors can use one of two statements Pfc. Lynndie R. England gave to Army investigators when they first questioned her in January 2004 about the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The decision was a setback for England, who appeared in some of the most notorious photos of the prison scandal. Defense lawyers argued that she did not understand the consequences of waiving her rights against self-incrimination when she agreed to speak to investigators.

Yesterday's ruling was part of a preliminary hearing before opening statements in the court-martial case today.

England, 22, who served in Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cresaptown, near Cumberland, faces up to 11 years in a military prison if convicted of the charges against her -- two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreatment of subordinates and one count of committing an indecent act.

She tried unsuccessfully in May to plead guilty to the same charges. But the judge interrupted the sentencing phase and declared a mistrial after former Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., the convicted ringleader of the prison abuse and the father of England's nearly 1-year-old son, testified that she had been following his orders when she posed with naked and hooded prisoners.

Wearing her Army green dress uniform, the petite soldier sat quietly and without expression during yesterday's half-day pre-trial hearing, answering only "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" to questions from the judge.

A far different image of England was seared into the world's memory in April 2004 when photographs circulated on the Internet and appeared in newspaper and television reports, showing England grinning and flashing 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.

In making his ruling yesterday, the military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, reversed an earlier decision that neither of England's two statements could be presented as evidence at her trial.

He agreed with prosecutors' arguments that "environmental stressors," which might have influenced England's statements when Army investigators pulled her from her bed for questioning after only two hours of sleep at 2 a.m. on Jan. 14, were not an issue when she was reinterviewed at 9 a.m. a day later.

Army investigators have previously testified that England told them that military intelligence officers had suggested "roughing up" two or three detainees, and that she dismissed the photographs as the joking antics of frustrated soldiers attempting to ease wartime stress.

Lawyers in the case are scheduled to begin selecting this morning the Army officers who will serve as jurors in England's court-martial. The trial is expected to conclude by the end of this month.

Among the witnesses expected to testify during the trial are Graner, who is serving 10 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, as well as four fellow soldiers who worked at Abu Ghraib and were charged with abusing detainees at the facility that served as Saddam Hussein's torture center.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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