England convicted in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib

Army clerk guilty on 6 of 7 counts

sentencing phase set to begin today

September 27, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Pfc. Lynndie R. England, a 22-year-old Army file clerk whose smirking photographs came to exemplify the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, was convicted yesterday of joining in the abuse when she posed next to detainees who had been stripped and put into humiliating poses.

After deliberating for slightly more than two hours, the jury, made up of five male Army officers, found England guilty of six out of seven counts of conspiracy and maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners, including an episode when she was photographed holding a strap tied as a leash around a naked detainee's neck.

The jury acquitted her of a single conspiracy charge related to the leash photograph.

Standing at attention in her Army dress uniform, England remained stoic as the verdict was read, as she has throughout the five-day trial. She could be sentenced to nine years in military prison; the sentencing phase begins today.

Faced with the evidence in the photographs, her defense lawyers never sought to deny that England had participated in the mistreatment. After the verdict, her lawyer, Capt. Jonathan Crisp, sounded unsurprised at the conviction.

"I guess the only reaction I can say is, I understand," he said in brief comments to reporters.

Although appeals are possible, the conviction closes the main chapter in the Army's prosecution of nine reservists who were charged with mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Two others, including England's former boyfriend, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., who held the rank of specialist at Abu Ghraib, were convicted in trials, and the remaining six reached plea deals.

England, who is from West Virginia, had sought to plead guilty to the charges in May, in exchange for a reduced sentence. But the plea deal collapsed that month after Graner testified that the treatment of the prisoners had been legitimate, and that she had participated at his request.

That led the military judge overseeing the case, Col. James L. Pohl, to throw out the plea deal, ruling that Graner's testimony contradicted England's admission of guilt.

After the photographs came to light last year, senior Pentagon officials initially sought to characterize the scandal as an aberration carried out by rogue military police soldiers on the prison's night shift. Since then, the Army has opened more than 400 inquiries into detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and punished 230 enlisted soldiers and officers.

What happened at Abu Ghraib differed from many other abuse cases because the prisoners involved were not under interrogation. Normally housed in a tent city reserved for suspected common criminals, they were taken into the prison building as punishment after a riot broke out.

There, they encountered what Graner, who testified during the trial, called a "bizzaro world" in which the normal rules of discipline seemed to be suspended.

Because the photographs showing England were especially shocking and numerous, she in many ways became the face of the scandal, even more so than Graner, who was convicted in January of helping to orchestrate the abuse and who admitted during testimony in this case that he had struck a detainee.

Other than the conspiracy count, England was not convicted of any misconduct other than "wrongfully posing" in photographs. Witnesses who testified in the trial disagreed about whether Graner had directed her to pose with the detainees. One witness said he had. Another said he could not recall him doing so.

In closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors described England as an enthusiastic participant and displayed poster-size enlargements of the photos, including one in which she pointed at an Iraqi's genitals.

"What soldier wouldn't know that that's illegal?" said Capt. Chris Graveline, the lead prosecutor. He added: "She is enjoying, she is participating, all for her own sick humor."

Crisp had urged jurors to acquit his client, saying she participated in the mistreatment because she suffered from an "overly compliant personality" and was under the influence of Graner, whom prosecutors have described as an instigator of the episode.

Graner, who was demoted from corporal, is the father of England's 11-month-old child; he has since married another reservist, Megan M. Ambuhl, who pleaded guilty in the scandal.

"The entire case, what this has always been about, is authority," Crisp said. "Pfc. England's blind compliance toward authority and her lack of authority in any context."

He added that England's history of depression and learning disabilities contributed to her willingness to join in. "She was an individual who was smitten with Graner, who just did whatever he asked her to do," he said.

But jurors seemed more interested in whether commanders at the prison had ordered the abuse or issued rules barring such treatment.

Several witnesses testified that they had little guidance, but the defense did not present any witnesses suggesting that the abuse had been ordered by superiors.

After the verdict, England's lawyer argued unsuccessfully that he should be allowed to call as a witness during the sentencing phase Capt. Ian Fishback, a former member of the Army's 82nd Airborne, who has alleged that soldiers in his battalion routinely beat and abused Iraqi prisoners to gather intelligence and amuse themselves.

Crisp said calling Fishback might shed light on where England and others at Abu Ghraib learned the methods they used against prisoners there.

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