- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

From combined dispatches

FORT HOOD, Texas — Pfc. Lynndie England, the young woman pictured grinning and giving a thumbs-up in some of the most notorious photos to come out of the Abu Ghraib scandal, pleaded guilty yesterday to mistreating prisoners, saying she let her comrades talk her into going along with the abuse.

Wearing her dress green Army uniform and speaking somberly in a soft voice, the 22-year-old Army reservist told the judge, Col. James Pohl, that she initially resisted taking part in the abuse at the Baghdad prison, but ultimately caved in to peer pressure.

“I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to,” she said, entering her pleas a day before the start of her scheduled trial. “I really didn’t want to do it. They were being very persistent, bugging me about it, so I was like, ‘OK I’ll do it.’”

She told the judge that Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., the reputed ringleader of the abuses and the man said to be the father of England’s infant son, put the leash around the prisoner’s neck in order to take him from one cell to another.

When the prisoner resisted, she told the judge, Graner said to her: “Hold this, I’m going to take a picture.”

“I assumed it was OK” because he was a Military Police officer, England said of Graner. ” He had a background as a corrections officer.”

Graner was convicted in January on a range of abuse charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Last month, he married former Spc. Megan Ambuhl, an Abu Ghraib defendant who was discharged from the Army without serving prison time.

The military judge did not seem to believe that the 22-year-old high school dropout had been fully aware of the illegality of her actions during morning testimony.

At one point, when England again asked her attorney for help in answering a question, Col. Pohl interrupted her.

“I know there’s a lot of outside interests, a lot of pressure on you,” he said. “I want to emphasize to you these are your words.”

Col. Pohl halted proceedings after England indicated that she did not think her actions were wrong. Her testimony changed substantially after she conferred with her attorneys.

England’s charges carry up to 11 years in prison, but prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement for a lesser sentence, the length of which was not released. A military jury will convene today to determine her punishment; she will receive the lesser of the jury’s sentence or the term to which she agreed in the plea bargain.

If she had been convicted as charged, she could have been sentenced to 16 years behind bars.

The abuse pictures were shown around the world and led to widespread condemnation of U.S. practices in Iraq at a time when it was trying to bring the country under control after the 2003 invasion.

In a military trial, defendants must prove they are guilty for the court to accept the plea. Despite many questions focused on the fact that England was responding to the actions of senior noncommissioned officers who had worked as correctional officers, Col. Pohl nonetheless found England guilty.

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