Abu Ghraib reservist to plead guilty

Private First Class Lynndie England will plead guilty to abusing Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison, about a year after photos of her sexually humiliating inmates made her the face of a scandal that damaged the credibility of the US military.

    The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was made public in April 2004

    England will plead guilty in a military court on Monday to seven of the nine counts against her: two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of dereliction of duty, said Rick Hernandez, her civilian lawyer.

    England, a 22-year-old army reservist who was a clerk at the Baghdad-area prison, was scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday at Fort Hood, Texas. Hernandez said the plea deal was reached on Friday afternoon during a meeting with military prosecutors at the army post.

    "This is in her best interests," he said.

    Charges dismissed

    One count of committing indecent acts and one count of failure to obey a lawful order will be dismissed, Hernandez said. That will drop the maximum sentence she faces from sixteen and a half years to 11 years, he said.

    If the plea agreement is accepted by army judge Colonel James Pohl, a panel of soldiers will determine her punishment.

    Charles Graner (back) and Lynndie
    England (front) pose with prisoners

    Hernandez said he plans to call Private Charles Graner Jr, a former Abu Ghraib guard and the reputed ringleader of the abuses, as a defence witness. Graner, said to be England's ex-boyfriend and father of her young son, was convicted in January on abuse charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

    The lawyer said it had not been decided whether England would take the stand on her own behalf.

    Maryland-based unit

    England, from Fort Ashby, West Virginia, was one of seven members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company charged with humiliating and assaulting prisoners at the prison near Baghdad. She became a focal point of the scandal after photos of her surfaced, including one that showed her smiling and posing with nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid.

    In one notorious photo from the prison, England is shown holding a hooded, naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash. In another she is smiling and pointing at a naked detainee's genitals while a cigarette dangles from the corner of her mouth.

    The Abu Ghraib scandal, which went public last April, weakened confidence in America's military leadership in the US, ignited outrage around the world, and spawned several high-level government investigations. So far, only low-level soldiers have been charged, although the defendants and other critics have alleged higher-level officials condoned the abuse.

    England's lawyers had argued she and others in her unit were acting on orders from military intelligence to soften-up prisoners for interrogations.

    But army investigators testified during hearings last summer that England said the reservists took the photos while "they were joking around, having some fun".

    Guilty pleas

    Four other members of the 372nd and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas, with sentences ranging from no time to eight and a half years. Graner is the only soldier to stand trial so far.

    Hernandez said Graner would be called to the stand in an attempt to mitigate England's sentence by showing "the type of personality that he is and what information he gave her that led her to believe that what she was doing was correct".

    He said the defence would also present evidence to the sentencing jury that England had severe learning disabilities and mental health problems.

    In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, England initially was charged with 19 counts of abuse and indecent acts that carried a combined maximum sentence of 38 years in prison.

    Prosecutors filed a new, reduced set of charges in February after the case was moved to Fort Hood.

    Special Sabrina Harman, the last of those charged with abuses, is scheduled for trial beginning on 9 May. Her lawyer, Frank Spinner, said at Fort Hood last month that Harman would not seek a plea deal in the case. She faces a maximum of six and a half years.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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