FORT HOOD, Tex., May 2 -- Army Pfc. Lynndie R. England formally pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, with many of the seven counts related to her appearance in some of the most graphic photographs of the abuse that shocked the world last spring.
Under a deal she made with military prosecutors, the reservist from Fort Ashby, W.Va., will serve less than the maximum term of 11 years in prison that could result from her guilty plea. She had faced nine counts and could have received up to 16 1/2 years. A military jury here is to decide her sentence this week.
Army Pfc. Lynndie R. England appeared in graphic photos of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
(L.m. Otero -- AP)
England, 22, was perhaps the most familiar face in the notorious photos. She was pictured holding one inmate tethered to a leash. In another, she smiles and smokes a cigarette while pointing at a naked prisoner. Her involvement in a group of sexually humiliating scenarios went alongside images of military dogs intimidating prisoners, soldiers carrying out assaults, and detainees being chained to their beds and cell doors in "stress positions."
The emergence of the Abu Ghraib photographs spawned nearly a dozen Defense Department and military inquiries into detainee abuse and focused an international spotlight on U.S. detention operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While government officials initially tried to minimize the Abu Ghraib abuse as being at the hands of a few bad apples in the Army Reserve, the larger investigations revealed widespread abuse involving questionable and harsh interrogation tactics.
England's defense team has been arguing for nearly a year that her case was part of a bigger picture, initially trying to get top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, to testify at her court-martial about the nation's policies for handling and interrogating detainees. They argued that England was simply doing as she was told, and that as a low-ranking soldier she was not in a position to question orders.
Still, in the end England negotiated a plea. But those careful arrangements almost went awry in the stark military courtroom Monday when a skeptical Army judge questioned her admission of guilt.
In military law, a judge cannot accept a defendant's guilty plea without assurance that the plea is true.
England told the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, that she was sent to Iraq as a records clerk with the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md., and had no training as a prison guard when the Army assigned her to work at Baghdad's toughest prison. When Pohl asked the defendant why she posed for the leash picture, she responded that she had been told to do so by a superior.
"Did you question this procedure?" the judge asked.
"I assumed it was okay," England replied, "because he was an MP [a military police soldier], he had the corrections-officer background. He was older than me."