As a military hearing started to determine if England should be court-martialled for her actions at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Paul Arthur testified that when he interviewed her, three months before the prison photos became public in April, she told him the shots were taken while “they were joking around, having some fun, working the night shift”.
Defence lawyers have said England was following orders when she was photographed mocking the detainees and the US government was making her a scapegoat for an incident that stirred anger in the Arab world.
The hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury in civilian court, is designed to gather evidence that will be used to decide if England will be court-martialled. It is open and the defendant attends it.
The one-time jailer faces a total of 19 charges, ranging from the abuse and humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison to photographing them naked and committing sexual acts.
The 19 charges the former jailer
The army charge sheet against England also includes “one specification of conspiring to commit maltreatment of an Iraqi detainee by posing in a photograph holding a leash around the neck of the detainee”.
Other charges include “indecent acts” with “numerous soldiers and Iraqi detainees” and disobeying orders.
The judge is due to hear testimony from soldiers who served with England at Abu Ghraib and numerous other officers.
The proceeding is likely to last several days and will call
numerous witnesses, including army investigators and soldiers who served with England, an army reservist, in the 372nd Military Police Company at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
“The total maximum punishment that Private First Class England potentially could receive if she is convicted of all charges and specifications is a dishonourable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for 38 years,” according to an army charge sheet.
England hit the headlines after graphic photographs of her posing with often naked Iraqi detainees were released to the media earlier this year.
England (C) faces up to 38 years
Widespread public outrage followed the release of the images around the world, forcing US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to issue an apology.
Rumsfeld was also scolded by US President George Bush for not telling him sooner about the existence of the photographs, which seriously damaged the US Army’s image around the world, and more importantly, on the streets of Iraq.
Some US lawmakers have questioned whether the practices at Abu Ghraib were sanctioned by more senior officers, and top military brass, including chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, have been called before Congress to respond to ongoing investigations.
More admissible pictures
Many of the Abu Ghraib photographs seized by army investigators were entered into evidence by the prosecution against England on Tuesday.
The hearing, known in army parlance as an Article 32 hearing,
could result in a non-judicial punishment, the dismissal of all
charges or a referral to a court martial.
The process is similar to a civilian grand jury hearing, except
that the accused is allowed to be present and call witnesses and cross-examine witnesses.
England is currently confined to the base at Fort Bragg.