Reservist ‘had fun’ with Iraqi inmates

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina, AP

Pfc. Lynndie England was “having some fun,” not following orders, when she posed in photos pointing, smiling and giving the thumbs-up to naked Iraqi detainees, investigators told a military court.

The testimony in a pretrial hearing Tuesday was part of a government strategy to portray England as one of a handful of rogue Army reservists who took it upon themselves to abuse detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Rebutting the defense claim that England was acting on orders from higher-ups to break down prisoners for questioning, Army investigators testified that the naked detainees shown with her in human pyramids and tethered to a leash were common criminals of little or no value to interrogators — abused only for sport.

Investigator Paul Arthur testified that when he interviewed England about the photos three months before they became public, she told him they were taken while “they were joking around, having some fun, during the night shift.”

Arthur said he believed the reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company, based on Cresaptown, Maryland, were responding to the stress of being in a war zone. Just before the pictures were taken in October 2003, there had been a prison riot and some soldiers had been injured. “It was just for fun, kind of venting their frustration,” Arthur testified.

But when asked if that assessment applied to England, Arthur replied: “She never mentioned that she was frustrated. She said it was more for fun.” Defense attorney Rick Hernandez contends the government is trying to shift its responsibility to a lowly private for a scandal that has stirred outrage in the Arab world.

But the prosecution’s case is flawed, he said, because investigators didn’t look into allegations “at other camps where my client has never been…All the information out there indicates it is a systematic problem.”

Hernandez countered contentions that England was having fun, saying she was smiling because in a prison “you don’t go around looking scared.”

He was especially angry about testimony about additional photos for which England is charged showing her engaged in “oral sodomy” with a soldier, nude by a pool, and waving her breasts in front of a sleeping soldier.

Hernandez said they were “private intimate photos that should have been kept that way,” adding they were no worse than what someone might see at Mardi Gras or spring break.

The military Article 32 hearing, expected to last through the week, will determine whether a court-martial goes forward against England on 13 counts of abusing detainees and six counts stemming from possession of sexually explicit photos. The maximum possible sentence is 38 years in prison.

England is one of seven reservists from the 372nd who have been charged in the scandal. One, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison.

Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., 35, another soldier in England’s unit, also has been charged with abuses and was involved in a romantic relationship with England; he faces adultery charges for allegedly having sex with England last October. England’s lawyers have said she is pregnant with Graner’s child.