May 3, 2005
FORT HOOD, Texas - Jury selection started Tuesday for the panel that will recommend a sentence for Army Reserve Pfc. Lynndie England, who pleaded guilty to mistreating prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison camp in Iraq.
England accepted responsibility for the smiling, thumbs-up poses she struck for photographs taken at Abu Ghraib that made her the face of the prisoner abuse scandal.
England, 22, pleaded guilty Monday to seven counts of mistreating prisoners, saying she let her comrades talk her into going along with the abuse.
The charges carry up to 11 years in prison, but prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement that caps the sentence at a lesser punishment, the length of which was not released. She will get the lesser of the military jury's sentence or the term agreed on in the plea bargain.
Selection of a sentencing jury made up of officers and senior enlisted soldiers from Fort Hood began Tuesday morning.
At Monday's hearing, England softly told the judge she initially resisted taking part in the abuse at the Baghdad prison, but caved in to peer pressure.
"I could have said, 'No,'" she told Col. James Pohl, the judge. "I knew it was wrong."
Capt. Cullen Sheppard, a prosecution spokesman, said the government will put on one sentencing witness before the defense begins its effort to persuade the jury to go easy on England.
Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., labeled the abuse ringleader and the man said to be the father of England's infant son, is expected to testify on England's behalf, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Graner was convicted in January on a range of abuse charges and is serving a 10-year sentence in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
England became a central figure in the Abu Ghraib scandal after photos emerged last year showing her and others sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.
One of the photos showed her holding a hooded, naked prisoner on a leash. Another showed her smiling and giving a thumbs-up next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid. A third depicted England pointing at the prisoner's genitals as a cigarette dangled from her lips.
She told Pohl she did not want to point at the man's genitals, but that Graner or another soldier pressured her into it. "I said, 'No, no way,'" she recalled to the judge. "But they were being very persistent, bugging me, so I said, 'OK, whatever.'"
England, from Fort Ashby, W.Va., said she knew all along that she could have refused to take part in the abuse. "I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to," she said.
England entered guilty pleas to two counts of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of committing an indecent act. Prosecutors agreed to drop another count of committing an indecent act and one count of dereliction of duty.
Four other members of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas in connection with the scandal, with sentences ranging from no time to 8 1/2 years. Spc. Sabrina Harman, a former Abu Ghraib guard, is scheduled to go to trial at Fort Hood next week.
Several investigations have been conducted, but so far only low-level soldiers have been charged, though the defendants have alleged that high-level officials condoned the abuse.
In England's hometown in West Virginia, Joyce Satzer said the scandal has given the community a bad name. "For someone to do something like that, and then for her to be from Fort Ashby, it's upsetting," said Satzer, 73. "This is a nice place to live."