Army Pfc. Lynndie England, shown in photographs smiling and pointing at naked Iraqi prisoners, was charged Friday by the military with assaulting the detainees and conspiring to mistreat them.
England, 21, is the seventh soldier from an Army Reserve military police unit to be charged in a scandal that has drawn outrage around the world and damaged the reputation of the United States as it tries to stabilize Iraq.
Before the charges were announced, England’s relatives insisted Friday that she was following orders when she posed for the pictures, including one in which she held a leash attached to a naked man’s neck.
England faces four allegations, according to a statement from the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.
She is accused of “assaulting Iraqi detainees on multiple occasions”; conspiring with another soldier, Spc. Charles Graner, to mistreat the prisoners; committing an indecent act; and committing acts “that were prejudicial to good order and discipline and were of nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces through her mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.”
England is seen smiling for the camera in one picture, a cigarette in her mouth, as she leans forward and points at the genitals of a naked, hooded Iraqi. Another photo shows her holding a leash that circles the neck of a naked Iraqi man lying on his side on a cellblock floor, his face contorted.
No lawyer has been appointed to represent England, said Col. Billy Buckner, a spokesman for the division. She may also hire a civilian lawyer, he said.
The charges must be taken up in an Article 32 investigation, a process similar to a civilian grand jury, before they can be sent to a general court-martial. Buckner said potential penalties could range from a reprimand to imprisonment and a punitive discharge.
Both England and Graner were members of the Army Reserve’s 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md.
Her rank has previously been given as a specialist. The Army statement referred to her as a private first class; Buckner did not know whether she had been demoted.
England was reassigned to a military police unit at Fort Bragg when she returned from Iraq and will continue her duties for the present, the Corps statement said. She was not in custody.
‘People told her what to do’
England’s family defended her Friday at a news conference in Fountain, W.Va., about 240 miles northeast of Charleston. They could not be immediately reached for comment after the charges were announced.
“I don’t believe my sister did what was in those photos,” her sister Jessica Klinestiver said. “Certain people told her what to do. I believe they were posed.”
England’s family said she was four months pregnant with Graner’s child. Graner’s attorney has said he faces a possible court-martial on criminal charges of maltreatment and indecent acts.
After photos from the Abu Ghraib prison were beamed around the globe, reporters flocked to Fort Ashby, a town of 1,300 people where England’s extended family lives in a trailer park. England’s parents left town Thursday to escape the attention.
The family’s attorney, Roy Hardy, said he arranged the news conference to relieve family members from constant media pressure.
“No one has the full story of what was going on in those pictures,” Hardy said. “They don’t show what was behind her, beside her or what was going on behind the scenes.
“When all this comes to light, she will not be depicted the way she’s being depicted right now,” he said.
England’s relatives have said she was a “paper pusher” in Iraq who processed inmates and went to the prison only to visit friends who worked there.
England was described as a kind young woman who loved athletics and the outdoors and was unafraid to speak her mind. She joined the Army Reserve as a high school junior to earn money for college.
Family and friends showed reporters a half-dozen photos of England, including images from her senior prom and her high school graduation in 2001.
“I just wanted to make sure you guys knew she was a human being,” Hardy told reporters.