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England convicted in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib

Trials and ArbitrationPrisoners and DetaineesWars and InterventionsJustice SystemJails and PrisonsDefense

Army Pfc. Lynndie England, the 22-year-old reservist who appeared in photos smirking amid naked prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, stood at attention as she was convicted of taking part in abusing detainees.

Wearing her dark green dress uniform, England showed no obvious emotion Monday after the jury foreman read the verdict. Asked for comment afterward, defense lawyer Capt. Jonathan Crisp said, "The only reaction I can say is, 'I understand.'"

Her case now moves to the sentencing phase, which will be heard by the same jury of five male Army officers beginning today. It was unclear whether England would testify on her own behalf. She faces up to nine years in prison.

England became the most recognizable of the nine Abu Ghraib soldiers charged in the prison scandal after photos showing her with a naked detainee on a leash and pointing to detainees in other demeaning poses became public.

Her trial was the last in the scandal; two other soldiers were convicted in trials and six made plea deals. Several of those soldiers testified at England's trial.

Prosecutors used graphic photos of England to support their contention that she was a key figure in the abuse conspiracy, a scandal that badly damaged the United States' image in the Muslim world despite quick condemnation of the abuse by President Bush.

England was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second conspiracy count pertaining to the leash incident.

England tried to plead guilty in May to the same counts she faced this month in exchange for an undisclosed sentencing cap, but a judge threw out the deal after reputed abuse ringleader Charles Graner Jr.'s account cast doubt on whether she knew what she was doing when she participated in the abuse.

Beyond the sordid photos, prosecutors pointed to England's statement to Army investigators in January 2004 that the mistreatment was done to amuse the U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib.

"The accused knew what she was doing," said Capt. Chris Graveline, the lead prosecutor. "She was laughing and joking. ... She is enjoying, she is participating, all for her own sick humor."

Crisp countered that England was only trying to please Graner. "She was a follower, she was an individual who was smitten with Graner," Crisp said. "She just did whatever he wanted her to do."

England, from Fort Ashby, W.Va., has said that Graner, now serving a 10-year sentence, fathered her young son. The defense argued that England suffered from depression and that she has an overly compliant personality, making her a heedless participant in the abuse.

Graner, a defense witness at the sentencing, said pictures he took of England holding a prisoner on a leash were meant to be used as a training aid. In her earlier guilty plea, England had said the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of Abu Ghraib guards.

Late Monday, presiding judge Col. James Pohl rejected a request by Crisp to allow testimony during the sentencing phase by an Army captain who has reported similar prisoner abuse by other U.S. soldiers at a camp near Fallujah around the same time as the Abu Ghraib incidents.

Crisp said testimony by Capt. Ian Fishback would provide evidence of a command breakdown in Iraq that might have led England and other soldiers to think detainee mistreatment was condoned by military leaders.

But the judge ruled that he saw no proof that the two abuse situations were related, or that abuse elsewhere would in any way lessen the blame England might deserve for Abu Ghraib.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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