England to plead guilty to prisoner abuse
Pfc. Lynndie England will plead guilty to abusing Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison, her lawyer said late Friday, about a year after photos of her sexually humiliating inmates made her the face of a scandal that damaged the credibility of the U.S. military.
England will plead guilty in a military court 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.
"This is in her best interests," he said.
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 16 1/2 years to 11 years, he said.
If the plea agreement is accepted by Army judge Col. James Pohl, a panel of soldiers will determine her punishment.
Hernandez said he plans to call Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., a former Abu Ghraib guard and the reputed ringleader of the abuses, as a defense witness. Graner, said to be England's ex-boyfriend and father of her young son, was convicted in January on a range of abuse charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The lawyer said it had not been decided whether England will take the stand on her own behalf.
England, from Fort Ashby, W.Va., 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, include 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 at home, 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."
Four other members of the 372nd and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas, with sentences ranging from no time to 8 1/2 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 defense would also present evidence to the sentencing jury that England has severe learning disabilities and mental health problems.
In Fort Bragg, N.C., England was initially 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.
Spc. Sabrina Harman, the last of those charged with abuses, is scheduled for trial beginning May 9. Her lawyer, Frank Spinner, said at Fort Hood last month that Harman will not seek a plea deal in the case. She faces a maximum of 6 1/2 years.