England given 3 years in abuse at Iraq prison

Md. Army reservist to be dishonorably discharged

September 28, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

FORT HOOD, Texas -- After less than 90 minutes of deliberation last night, a military jury sentenced Pfc. Lynndie R. England to three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge - the third-harshest punishment handed down among the nine soldiers charged with abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The 22-year-old Maryland-based Army reservist repeatedly flexed her jaw as the foreman read the sentence just before 7 p.m. Weeping quietly, England accepted a long hug from her mother and gave her nearly 1-year-old son, Carter, a hug and kiss. Four soldiers, her two military lawyers and the clinical psychologist who testified on her behalf later escorted her - handcuffed and shackled - to a darkened van outside the courthouse.

Just four hours earlier, in a quiet and halting voice, England told the officers deciding her fate that she had let down the U.S. Army by posing for notorious photographs with Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. She also apologized in court to the military and to the prisoners for her role in the abuse.

"After the photos were released, I've heard there were attacks made on coalition forces because of the photos," she said during her sentencing hearing. "I apologize to the coalition forces and their families that lost their life or were injured because of the photos."

England said she participated in the photographs at the direction of her wartime boyfriend, the former Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., the convicted ringleader of the prison abuse and the father of her son.

When a defense lawyer asked how she felt about being in the pictures, England said, "Embarrassed. Because I was used by Private Graner. I didn't realize it at the time."

The sentence ended the final court martial of the nine soldiers charged with abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. While England, an administrative clerk at the prison, Graner and another former guard were convicted at trial, six soldiers reached plea agreements with prosecutors. No officers have gone to trial although several received administrative punishments.

The five commissioned Army officers serving as jurors in England's case began deliberating her punishment at about 5:30 last night.

England is a West Virginia native who served in Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cresaptown, near Cumberland. She became the most recognizable figure in the prison abuse scandal after photographs circulated the globe depicting her 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.

She was convicted Monday of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating subordinates and one count of committing indecent acts and acquitted of a second conspiracy count that stemmed from the leash incident. She faced up to nine years in a military prison.

Capt. Chris Graveline, a military prosecutor, asked the panel to sentence her to four to six years while Capt. Jonathan Crisp, a defense attorney, said no prison time would be appropriate.

In her most detailed public comments since the infamous photographs were made public early last year, England spoke yesterday for 34 minutes.

She politely answered questions from one of her lawyers about her childhood, her interest in the military, how she became involved with Graner and the impact of the investigation and criminal charges on her life.

Because her testimony was offered as an unsworn statement, prosecutors could not cross-examine her.

Of going out in public since the publication of pictures, England said, "It's scary ma'am. Because I don't know who hates me and who doesn't. I get looks, stares. Sometimes I get approached by people. This is at the Food Lion or Wal-Mart. I'm just going to get baby food."

In his closing argument, Graveline said the particulars of England's apology were notable.

The abuses had poisoned the military's mission in Iraq, he said.

"Let's make that perfectly clear. It's the abuses; it's not the photographs. When the accused stands up and says, `I apologize for the photos,' O.K. But how about for the abuses?"

Graveline said he could not think of another incident that had so tarnished the Army's reputation, and he asked jurors to sentence England to prison and a dishonorable discharge.

"Who can think of a person who has disgraced this uniform more?" he asked. "Who can think of a person who has held up the U.S. military to more ridicule? Her service has brought shame and humiliation upon us all."

But the defense countered that insufficient training and chaotic conditions at Abu Ghraib, once a torture facility under Saddam Hussein's regime, left the prison and those who worked there vulnerable to the detainee abuse captured on soldiers' digital cameras.

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