Jurors are urged to look beyond England photos

Opening statements are delivered in Abu Ghraib guard's abuse trial

September 22, 2005|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

FORT HOOD, TEXAS -- Acknowledging Pfc. Lynndie R. England's participation in some of the most notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, a lawyer for the young Army reservist asked the jury yesterday to look beyond the photos in which she appeared with nude detainees posed in pyramids and in sexually humiliating positions.

"The pictures are indisputable," Capt. Jonathan Crisp told the five Army officers serving as jurors. "The defense is not going to say that was not Lynndie England. The defense is not going to say that what those pictures show didn't happen. But those pictures, like Private Lynndie England, are silent."

`Sweet girl'

Making his opening statement, Crisp spoke of special education classes, language deficits and what he called "elective mutism" that kept England from speaking to more than one or two people for the first seven years of her life in trying to explain how a rural West Virginian known as "the sweet girl" could end up in such disturbing photographs.

He told jurors that England, 22, has a "compliant personality" and took "social cues" from those in positions of authority, particularly her wartime boyfriend, former Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., the convicted ringleader of the prison abuse and father of England's nearly 1-year-old son.

Displaying images of Graner and other higher-ranking soldiers mocking and posing with nude Iraqis at the Baghdad prison, Crisp told the officers, "This is what she sees when she's at Abu Ghraib."

An Army prosecutor countered in his opening statement that England, a prison administrative clerk whose boyfriend was in charge of a cellblock, had no good reason to be on Tier One Alpha during the Nov. 7, 2003, night shift, when seven detainees on their way to solitary confinement were stripped and abused by the U.S. guards.

"She had no legal duty to be there," Capt. Chuck Neill said. "She certainly had no military duty to be there, other than to participate in these offenses."

England, who served in Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cresaptown, near Cumberland, could be sentenced to as much as 11 years in a military prison if convicted of the two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreatment of subordinates and one count of indecent acts with which she is charged.

The five jurors are all assigned to Fort Hood. Three of them were in Iraq when the prison abuse allegations became public or were deployed there in the months afterward.

The panel members were selected yesterday from a group of 12 officers after nearly five hours of questioning by the prosecutors, the defense attorneys and the military judge.

Forecasting its strategy, the defense asked whether the prospective jurors would want to know the context in which the photographs were taken or about England's personal background and psychological make-up.

Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, asked each of the potential jurors whether heightened interest in England's case, which he characterized as stretching to the highest levels of the U.S. government and military as well as abroad, might sway them. Each said no.

The defense asked jurors to consider the story behind the photographs. The prosecution focused on the pictures themselves. Saying that reasonable people might disagree about whether an image can tell a complete story, Neill told the jurors, "It is indisputable that a photograph accurately captures a moment in time."

As the images that made England one of the most recognizable figures in the prison abuse cases flashed on computer monitors in front of the jurors, the prosecutor repeatedly pointed out the reservist's smiles, the thumbs-up sign she flashed to the camera, the cigarette clenched between her lips.

`Little doubt'

Of a photograph taken Oct. 23, 2003, of England and a leashed detainee that the prison guards had nicknamed Gus, Neill said, "The picture leaves very little doubt about what happened that evening. Gus was crawling out of his cell while soldiers were posing around him for their own amusement."

Crisp countered that England's family history of depression and a blind trust of Graner - a man 14 years her senior whom the lawyer said she loved - go a long way toward explaining her actions. England's trial is scheduled to continue this morning with prosecutors presenting their case.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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