FORT HOOD, Texas — Army Pfc. Lynndie England, who said she was only trying to please her soldier boyfriend when she took part in detainee abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, was sentenced late Tuesday to three years behind bars.
England’s sentencing wrapped up the last of nine courts-martial of low-level soldiers charged in the scandal, which severely damaged America’s image in the Muslim world and tarnished the U.S. military at home and abroad.
The jury of five Army officers needed about 90 minutes to determine their sentence for England, the 22-year-old from West Virginia who was the most recognizable of the reservists charged after photos of naked detainee in degrading poses became public.
The charges carried up to nine years, but the prosecution had asked the jury to imprison England for four to six years. The defense asked for no time.
None of the lawyers would speak with reporters after the sentence was announced.
England, who was convicted Monday on six of seven counts involving prisoner mistreatment, sat with her eyes forward as the verdict was read, occasionally looking down.
She spent some time with her 11-month-old son, Carter, before shuffling out of the courthouse with her arms and legs in shackles. Her reddened eyes stared straight ahead as she made her way to a waiting van.
Apology for the photos
England apologized earlier Tuesday for appearing in the photos, saying she did so at the behest of Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., who she said took advantage of her love and trust while they were deployed in Iraq.
“I was used by Private Graner,” England said. “I didn’t realize it at the time.”
She was in several of the best-known photos taken by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib in late 2003. In one image she held a naked prisoner on a leash, while in others she posed with a pyramid of naked detainees and pointed at one man’s genitals while a cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth.
England, speaking in response to questions from a defense lawyer, said she was embarrassed by the photos and apologized to the detainees and their families, as well as to American soldiers who may have suffered in Iraq for her actions.
“I heard attacks were made on coalition forces because of the photos,” she said. “I apologize to coalition forces and their families that lost their life or were injured because of the photos.”
Overly compliant, defense said
England’s defense contended she is a compliant person who took part in the maltreatment to please Graner, who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the abuse by a group of U.S. troops.
England recounted how her relationship with Graner, 14 years her senior, developed as they prepared for deployment to Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company in 2003.
“He was very charming, funny and at the time it looked to me like he was interested in the same things I was. ... He made me feel good about myself,” she said. “I trusted him and I loved him. ... Now I know it was just an act to lure me in.”
Graner and another former guard were also convicted at trial, while six other soldiers struck plea bargains. Graner was sentenced to 10 years.
No officers have gone to trial, though several received administrative punishment.
Graner on Tuesday supported testimony from a defense witness that officers failed to control the guards at the Baghdad prison, creating stressful conditions that disoriented England and led her to take part in the mistreatment.
No leadership guiding them
Graner testified that he, England and others who worked the overnight shift in a high-security section of Abu Ghraib had scant supervision.
“It seems like the junior soldiers were on their own,” said Graner, who England has said is the father of her infant. “We had little leadership.”
Graner said he told officers about detainee maltreatment, which he claimed was done by order of military intelligence personnel. And at times, he said, military intelligence officers actually were present for the abuse.
“I nearly beat an MI detainee to death with MI there,” he said before Col. James Pohl, the judge, interrupted his testimony.
Stjepan Mestrovic, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University called as an expert witness by the defense, testified that England should be punished lightly because of the “poisonous environment” that existed at Abu Ghraib.
“She was caught up in this chaotic situation like everyone else,” said Mestrovic.
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