Soldier treated prison abuse 'as a joke'

By Kate Zernike
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
August 5, 2004

She is the last but best known of seven accused soldiers to enter a military courtroom on charges of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

Private Lynndie England, the grinning face of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, appeared on Tuesday before a military judge who will determine whether she should face a court martial on 19 charges of assault, misconduct and posing for what the military termed "numerous wrongful photographs". These include the now infamous one of her holding a naked prisoner on a leash.

England, 21 and six months pregnant, sat mostly expressionless as two military investigators described a carnival-like mentality among soldiers at the jail where mistreatment of detainees and sexual high jinks were carried out with equal giddiness.

"From the get-go, it seemed like it was just a joke," the lead investigator, Special Agent Paul Arthur, said of England's description of the mistreatment in two sworn statements. "They didn't think it was that big a deal, they were just joking around... kind of to vent their frustration."

But he noted that England did not express any frustration. "She said it was more for fun."

England appeared to suppress a smile as investigators described a videotape showing her having sex with Corporal Charles Graner, who prosecutors say was a ringleader of the abuse and England says is the father of the child she is carrying.

Investigators said they discovered 1000 photographs and additional videos on computers owned by various soldiers. About 280 photos, interspersed with travelogue shots of Iraq and Kuwait, showed detainees being sexually humiliated or mistreated, or soldiers engaged in sexually inflected misconduct.

England's lawyers, like those for the other military police soldiers already ordered to face courts martial, have said she was acting on orders from military intelligence to "loosen up" detainees so they would say more in interrogations.

"She (Lynndie England) believed that military intelligence said they could rough up the detainees."
Chief Warrant Officer Warren Worth"

But both investigators said there was no evidence that the abused detainees had any value to military intelligence - most were criminals, not terrorists. Most were never interrogated, Special Agent Arthur testified.

None of the accused soldiers had been able to recall the names of anyone who had given the orders, the investigators said. Known techniques to encourage interrogations did not include the acts depicted in the most graphic photographs - piling naked detainees in a human pyramid or forcing them to masturbate.

Special Agent Arthur was at Abu Ghraib when a soldier in England's military police unit slipped a packet under his door containing CDs of scores of images. Within hours, he had asked England about them. She maintained the pictures were taken for sport and to vent anger about an earlier prison riot.

England in one of the photographs.

But another officer testified yesterday that England believed her actions were authorised. "She believed that military intelligence said they could rough up the detainees," Chief Warrant Officer Warren Worth said.

Special Agent Arthur said England, a junior clerk, never worked on the cell block, but visited the wing after hours to visit Corporal Graner. "I don't think she received orders from military intelligence," he said. "It came through the grapevine, or was implied."

But it later emerged on Tuesday that lowly reservists at Abu Ghraib were called on to perform coercive interrogation techniques and were ordered to deny prisoners rations, keep them in isolation or to deny them sleep for up to 22 hours at a stretch.

- New York Times, Guardian