Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the Army reservist who appeared in infamous photographs humiliating detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, was found guilty of six counts of abuse and indecent acts yesterday in the final court-martial for the original group of soldiers who touched off an international furor over U.S. treatment of prisoners.
England, 22, faces as long as 10 years in prison after a jury of five military officers at Fort Hood, Tex., found her guilty in six of seven criminal counts. She was acquitted of one count of conspiracy to abuse.
England is the last of nine military police and military intelligence reservists who have either been found guilty of abuse at courts-martial or accepted plea deals, largely as a result of dozens of photographs and videos showing them mistreating and beating detainees at the prison west of Baghdad in late 2003.
Two military dog handlers also have been implicated because of the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs and face ongoing military criminal cases. A hearing to determine England's sentence is set to begin today.
England's conviction marked a milestone in the worldwide controversy over treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces. She was a central figure in several of the most shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib, where the actions of her military police company spurred more than a dozen major military investigations, numerous congressional hearings, and probes of alleged abuse at detention sites across Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with Pentagon reporters yesterday that those in the armed forces have been "disappointed and felt disgraced by" the abuse cases. Myers said that the incidents involved individual soldiers who knew that what they were doing was wrong.
"We had a problem, and we dealt with the problem and dealt with it in an appropriate way," Myers said. "Pfc. England's conviction is just one more example of holding people accountable, because that's who did it."
Human rights organizations, however, have called for a more thorough, independent look at the military's chain of command and civilian leadership to determine whether policies set at high levels led to mistreatment of prisoners. Tactics approved for skilled interrogators at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- such as putting women's underwear on a detainee's head, attaching a detainee to a leash and stripping a detainee in front of female soldiers -- appeared in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere just months later.
"The photographs led us to the scandal, but they also misled us because they suggested that the night shift at Abu Ghraib was the only problem," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, which released a report last week detailing new allegations of abuse at another base in Iraq in 2003 that were similar to tactics used at Abu Ghraib. "If it wasn't for the photos, we would not have had the same kind of scrutiny of detention operations, we wouldn't have had hearings, we wouldn't have had the press coverage of the issue."
The photographs made England a focal point of the scandal. In one, she is seen holding a leash tied to a naked detainee's neck. In other digital photographs, she is smiling with a cigarette dangling from her lips, pointing at hooded and naked detainees who were made to masturbate and were put in mock sexual positions.
In May, she stood in a Fort Hood courtroom and entered guilty pleas to the charges, but those pleas were rejected by the military judge because he felt they were inconsistent with testimony from other witnesses in the case.
England and her attorneys have argued that she was following the directions of her lover, then-Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., and that she did not know her actions were wrong. Graner, who has maintained that military intelligence interrogators encouraged him to mistreat detainees to get them to talk, was convicted of abuse and is serving a 10-year prison sentence, the stiffest so far.
Army investigative documents have indicated that military intelligence interrogators were looking to get tough on detainees at about the same time that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were documented, and senior leaders have been faulted for failing to notice that the treatment was getting out of control. None of those leaders has been charged with a crime connected to the abuse.
Capt. Jonathan Crisp, England's defense attorney, argued in court last week that she has a compliant personality that caused her to follow Graner's lead without question. Crisp said the photographs, publicized worldwide, led prosecutors to go after England and the others with great zeal, adding that he believes "there are other levels of responsibility and culpability" that the government has yet to explore.
"The pictures are what did it," Crisp said last night. "It serves to continually inflame people's passions about the issue. Do I think it's unfair to make her the poster child for this? Absolutely. It's a mischaracterization of what happened. To say that she is the poster child for things far different and more expansive than what happened at Abu Ghraib is unfair, and it brands her for the rest of her life."