By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2005
Military prosecutors have filed a new set of charges against Pfc. Lynndie R. England that significantly reduces the Army reservist's potential prison sentence should she be convicted of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
England, who became a central figure in the scandal because she appeared in some of the most notorious photographs of mistreatment, now faces a maximum of 16 1/2 years in prison on nine criminal counts, according to members of her defense team. According to the new charge sheets, nearly half of the alleged offenses stem from two single digital photographs of England that became instant icons: One taken on Oct. 23, 2003, which shows her holding a detainee by a leash, and one on Nov. 7, 2003, in which she is posing with detainees arranged in a human pyramid.
Prosecutors at Fort Hood in Texas filed the new charges on Friday, several weeks after England's initial charges were dropped outright so her case could be transferred from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The original charges carried a maximum of nearly 30 years in prison, according to England's lawyers, and the new charges reduce that almost by half.
England now stands accused of two counts of conspiracy, one count of dereliction of duty, four counts of cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, and two counts of "indecent acts." Allegations of assault were dropped.
Much of the prison time England faces centers on two so-called indecent acts, one that involved a photograph of the young soldier pointing at the genitals of naked detainees and the other capturing a consensual sexual act with Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. in a spare cell at the prison just outside Baghdad. Each charge carries a maximum of five years.
England's lawyer said the new charges bring her potential for prison time somewhat closer -- but not yet in line with -- the sentences imposed on those who have been convicted and sentenced in the scandal. Graner was given 10 years; Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick got eight years.
"I think the charges more closely reflect what she's accused of doing; however, when you look at it proportionately to the others, she's definitely being charged with a heavier hand by the same prosecutors the others had," said Richard A. Hernandez, England's civilian defense lawyer. "It's because she's a woman, and it's because she became the face of this."
Because the earlier charges were dismissed, England is again entitled to a preliminary hearing in the military court system, a hearing that gives defense attorneys the opportunity to renew their call for high-level witnesses such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top Army generals.
England's lawyers have argued that the low-ranking desk clerk -- who had no official duties inside the section of the prison where abuse occurred -- was taking orders from superiors when she participated in the photo sessions. They claimed that the military condoned aggressive interrogation tactics and that military police patrolling the prison were enlisted to help.
Military prosecutors initially said England had no duties at the prison, but they now charge that she was derelict in her duty to protect detainees there.
England has been living near Fort Bragg with her infant son, and her lawyers said she was served with the new charges last week. Hernandez said he is open to discussing a plea agreement with prosecutors.