By MICHAEL A. FUOCO
September 19, 2005
This week, 16 months after charges were lodged against her, Pfc. Lynndie England, 22, faces a court-martial to determine her guilt in sexually humiliating Iraqis detained in the Baghdad prison.
Scheduled to begin Wednesday at Fort Hood, Texas, and expected to last about a week, the court-martial will be the latest forum for the criminal case against the woman who once hoped the Army Reserves would be her way out of tiny Fort Ashby, W.Va. Instead, she found herself at the center of worldwide derision for posing in the photographs the public first saw in May 2004.
Twists both unexpected and unusual, jurisdiction transfers, the refiling of charges, the birth of a child fathered by a co-defendant and a mistrial that voided a guilty plea, have so delayed her case that she will be the last of those charged to be adjudicated.
All the other noncommissioned soldiers charged in the scandal, six from her unit, the 372nd Military Police Company based in Cresaptown, Md., and two from a military intelligence company, pleaded guilty or, at a court-martial, were found guilty of various crimes.
A series of investigations affixed blame to Army commanders at the prison as well as senior commanders in Iraq. While there have been some reprimands, no one in the chain of command has been charged.
England has benefited from the legal wrangling and surprises in her case. Where once she faced 19 criminal counts and a maximum jail sentence of 38 years, she now is defending herself against seven counts carrying a maximum sentence of 11 years in a military prison. A maximum sentence also would carry a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
The charges include four counts of maltreatment of subordinates, posing in pictures with a naked, prone prisoner on a leash; with a prisoner who had "rapeist" written on his exposed buttocks; with naked, hooded prisoners positioned in a human pyramid; and with two other naked prisoners while she pointed at the genitals of one of them.
Additionally, England is charged with a single count of committing an indecent act by posing in a photograph with a group of naked prisoners forced to masturbate, and with two counts of conspiracy related to the maltreatment of prisoners .
Prosecutors said the abuse occurred between October and December 2003. On Jan. 13, 2004, a fellow reservist anonymously slipped Army criminal investigators a computer disk with the photographs of prisoner abuse. The investigation by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division began immediately.
England was interviewed by investigators in Iraq and then at Fort Bragg, N.C., after she was transferred there in March 2004 because she was pregnant. She said the father was Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., 37, of Uniontown, Pa., who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the abuse.
Charges were filed against England in May 2004, more were lodged two months later, and, in August 2004, an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing, was held at Fort Bragg, over seven days. On the basis of that hearing, a court-martial was ordered at Fort Bragg, but those charges were withdrawn and transferred to the jurisdiction of Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of III Corps Metz at Fort Hood.
Metz dismissed the charges emanating from Fort Bragg's command and lodged new, and fewer, ones.
England gave birth to a boy Oct. 10. Seven months later, in May, she said she would waive her right to an Article 32 hearing on nine criminal counts if Col. James L. Pohl, the military judge, accepted her bargain with prosecutors to plead guilty to seven of them. The plea bargain decreased the maximum jail time for the charges from 161/2 years to 11 years.
Pohl agreed and the sentencing phase of the court-martial began because the plea bargain reportedly called for England to receive either 30 months imprisonment or a sentence imposed by the military jury, whichever was less.
In a shocking development, England found herself back at the beginning of the legal process and again facing a maximum of 11 years in prison because of testimony provided by Graner on her behalf.
Pohl abruptly stopped the proceedings when Graner, who had been sentenced to 10 years at his court-martial in January, said he told England to pose in the photograph with the prisoner on a leash to document what he said was a legitimate cell extraction technique.
Pohl said he could not reconcile England's admission of guilt with potentially exculpatory testimony elicited by her attorneys that she was ordered by a superior to commit a criminal act. Pohl's declaration of the mistrial voided the plea. Because two counts had been dismissed with prejudice, they could not be refiled.
On May 24, England waived her Article 32 hearing on the remaining seven charges, setting up this week's court-martial, possibly the final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
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