Tuesday, 3 August, 2004

US woman faces Iraq abuse charges
Lynndie England going to court on 3 August 2004
Lynndie England maintains she was under orders
A US military court has begun a hearing into whether one of the US soldiers at the centre of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal should face trial.

Private Lynndie England, 21, will hear whether the evidence will be sufficient to send her to a court martial.

Her face became familiar after she appeared in photographs pointing at prisoners' genitals and holding an Iraqi detainee on a dog leash.

Her lawyers claim she is a scapegoat and was acting under orders.


The US officer in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison at the time of the abuse, Brig Gen Janis Karpinski, supported the allegation.

Gen Karpinski told the BBC's Today programme that she had new information on "what caused the pictures to be taken".

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says if the army accepts that argument, the implications could be far-reaching - it would mean that prisoner abuse had been authorised and was systematic.

The US military says it is investigating another 94 possible prisoner abuse cases in Iraq and elsewhere.

Vigorous defence

Pte England arrived at the North Carolina hearing to be charged with conspiracy to mistreat Iraqi prisoners, assaulting prisoners, committing acts prejudicial to good order, committing indecent acts, disobeying an order and creating and possessing sexually explicit photographs.

Asked by the judge whether she had any questions, Pte England replied: "No, ma'am."

Picture of Iraqi prisoners being abused in Abu Ghraib jail (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
England appeared in some of the most infamous photos (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
She faces a possible dishonourable discharge and a maximum of 38 years in prison if convicted.

Some of the charges do not relate to prisoner abuse.

Pte England's lawyers have promised to mount a vigorous defence, denying the charges and blaming flawed American policies in Iraq.

Their attempts to call US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as witnesses have been refused, they say.

No forgiveness

The scandal erupted when pictures were published of Iraqi prisoners stripped naked, being abused and humiliated.

Pte England was sent to Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company, and served at Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad.

She appeared in some of them, smiling with a cigarette hanging from her lips, or giving a thumbs-up.

The Arab world was enraged and US President George W Bush offered an apology. He said the abuse was down to a small group of soldiers.

For soldiers to just abandon... disregard everything they know to be right and proper is an absolute breach of rights and humane treatment
Brig Gen Janis Karpinski
Former Abu Ghraib commander
Pte England is one of seven people charged with the Abu Ghraib abuse.

One, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, has already pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to a year in prison.

The US army has issued different accounts of the abuses and early investigations suggested strongly that intelligence officers had ordered prisoner abuse to prepare detainees for interrogation.

But another report, issued more recently, found that abuses were unauthorised and the acts of isolated individuals.

Gen Karpinski told the BBC: "What caused those photographs to be taken, I think, is a very important point in any of the soldiers' defence."

But she added that even if the orders came from the top, this did not "forgive the acts, their [the soldiers'] participation".

"There are things that anybody can do to prevent things like that from happening if they know them to be wrong.

"For soldiers to just abandon, to literally abandon, disregard everything they know to be right and proper is an absolute breach of rights and humane treatment."

Gen Karpinski also said recent testimony from an unspecified source suggested a conspiracy to keep her from discovering the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Asked whether she thought the conspiracy reached up to the Pentagon or the White House, she said she did not know for sure, but added: "The indication is that it may have."