Accused Soldiers a Diverse Group
Families Defend Seven Charged With Abusing Iraqi Prisoners at Abu Ghraib
By Christian Davenport and Michael Amon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A18
The motivations that propelled them into the Army recruiter's office were as varied as their backgrounds. Some joined the reserves knowing little about the military except that it could be a ticket to college and a means to escape dead-end jobs. Others enlisted for adventure, knowing full well that ending up on the front lines was a possibility.
The seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md., who have been implicated in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's largest prison are a diverse band of soldiers: Four men and three women, ranging in age from 21 to 37, they come from small rural towns and big-city suburbs.
They include a 35-year-old father of two from southwestern Pennsylvania who has been accused of abuse by his ex-wife during a contentious divorce. Another is a headstrong 21-year-old who wanted to escape her job at a rural West Virginia chicken-processing plant. Yet another is a 26-year-old who grew up in a blue-collar New Jersey hamlet, where his father made sure he read his Bible every day.
Two joined the service in the wave of patriotism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One, a 26-year-old pizzeria manager from Alexandria, never imagined she would go to war; the other, a 29-year-old lab technician from Centreville, was counting on it. A 37-year-old corrections officer from Buckingham, Va., grew up idolizing his uncle's Air Force exploits and hoped to one day see the world, too. And there is the 24-year-old auto mechanic, so proud of being a soldier that he showed up for his date's high school prom wearing his newly tailored dress uniform, corsage in hand.
And now six of them are sequestered at a tent camp in Baghdad: Spec. Jeremy C. Sivits, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., Spec. Megan M. Ambuhl and Spec. Sabrina D. Harman. They face charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault and indecent acts. The seventh, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, has also been charged in the case, the Army announced Friday. She has been transferred to Fort Bragg, N.C.
Last October, they had been thrown together to guard Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. They now stand at the middle of an international firestorm that has embarrassed the nation, set back U.S. relations with the Arab world and prompted President Bush to apologize for their behavior.
It is the images of England that have become synonymous with the abuse. In one photo, she is standing beside a line of naked prisoners, pointing at their genitals, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. In another, she's holding a leash that is tied to the neck of a nude man who is lying on the floor.
Her relatives said they were shocked when they saw the pictures. "I just sat and cried," said her mother, Terrie England. Seeing the photos reminded her what she told her daughter before she shipped off to Iraq: "Just remember, you don't know who you can trust over there."
Shortly after high school, Lynndie England was married, her family said. The marriage ended after just a few months. She is reportedly engaged to Graner, to whom many soldiers looked for leadership.
England was determined to go to war as she had been to join the Army in the first place. She was a 17-year-old high school junior when she marched into her family's trailer in the former coal-mining town of Fort Ashby, W.Va., and announced that she wanted to enlist. She was a minor so she would need their consent, and at first her parents resisted.
She was only 5 foot 2 and not much more than 100 pounds. But she was determined. "She said she would turn 18 soon, anyway, and just do it then," said her father, Kenneth England.
But the decision was mostly driven by a desire to go to college and study meteorology, her relatives said. And she had seen enough Army recruiting commercials to know the military could help with tuition. Her family was able to help pay for schooling. But Terrie England said: "She wanted to be able to do it alone. She doesn't want to have to fall back on anyone."
England, who relatives said was ordered to pose in the photographs, was not trained as a guard and had little contact with the detainees inside the heart of the prison, her family said. Instead, she would process them, organize the paperwork and take fingerprints, they said. "She worked with paper," Kenneth England said.
Jeremy Sivits's father, Daniel Sivits, also said that his son was not prepared for guard duty. "My son is not a trained MP," he said. "He is trained as a mechanic. . . . He's used to changing tires on a Humvee."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. and Pfc. Lynndie R. England at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, in an undated photo.
(Courtesy Of The Washington Post)