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Fort Bragg divided over Iraq abuse charges

At Fort Bragg, opinions are mixed about Pfc. Lynddie England, the Army Reservist being held on the base while investigators build a case against her for alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners. NBC News' Donna Gregory reports.
U.S. Army Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. and Pfc. Lynndie R. England are shown in this undated photograph at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They are among soldiers who face charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty toward prisoners, maltreatment, assault and indecent acts.The Washington Post
/ Source: NBC News

For most soldiers at Fort Bragg, Friday’s announcement of charges against Army Reserve Pfc. Lynddie England are no surprise. The 21-year-old is under restriction at Fort Bragg while investigators build a case against her for alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

“They should never have done that. They should all be tried and sent to Leavenworth," declared Spc. Mason, a three-year Army veteran with the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.

With just 90 days left in the military, Mason was the only person willing to reveal his last name when asked about the charges against England.

Passionate opinions  
Mason was stationed in Fallujah, Iraq, for several months before returning to Fort Bragg in March. He’s proud of the rapport his fellow 82nd Airborne Division soldiers were starting to build with Iraqi citizens, but now he fears the infamous photos will be a major step backward.

“We’re supposed to treat ’em like human beings, not help them attack us. Before, we were getting more respect [from the Iraqis].  Now there will be more attacks. A lot more attacks,” Mason worried.

Other soldiers say they condemn the acts portrayed in the photos but feel compassion toward the accused.

“People over there detained weren’t just jaywalking. They were killing American soldiers,” offered one 82nd Airborne E-5, during lunch with two members of his unit.

The soldiers having lunch declined to give their names but revealed that their artillery unit was assigned to protect the perimeter of the Abu Ghraib prison during the time of the alleged abuses.

They claim they were unaware of the abuse scandal until they read about it in the local paper.

“We never saw any beating of prisoners. They had people in towers watching over them. When they got out of hand, they’d separate ’em from other people, in a different holding area," said a 21-year-old E-5 with the same unit.

He said England’s alleged offenses are a black eye for the Army, but not for Fort Bragg.

“As far as bringing Fort Bragg into the picture, Fort Bragg has nothing to do with it. She didn’t deploy with Fort Bragg. [The recent attention] is only because she’s here.”

At Fort Bragg for the meantime
England, who is four months pregnant, has been performing office duties with the 16th Military Police Brigade since being reassigned to Fort Bragg, according to XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery Public Affairs Officer Col. Bill Buckner. Now that she’s been charged with assaulting the detainees and conspiring to mistreat them, England has to remain on post.

“As far as I know, there are no special restrictions. She has not demonstrated that she’s a flight risk, so she will remain in Fayetteville and the Fort Bragg area," Buckner explained.  “We will be careful to make sure all her rights are protected now that charges have been preferred.”

England will be represented by former U.S. Army attorney Giorgio Ra’Shadd and attorney Rose Mary Zapor. Ra’Shadd reportedly plans to meet with England on Tuesday.

Buckner said investigators will decide whether there’s enough evidence against England to warrant a court-martial. If that happens, he said, the entire process could take months.

“There’s the investigation, gathering of evidence here and in Iraq, getting witnesses." Bruckner said that any court-martial would likely be held at Fort Bragg.

While on post, England is housed in a barracks for transient soldiers, since she’s actually an Army Reservist attached to a Fort Bragg unit.

A young enlisted man who spoke on condition of anonymity said the military can’t expect full-Army discipline from a part-time soldier.

“You can’t compare Reservists or National Guard (members) to Army soldiers. They don’t live the life every day. They don’t talk like we talk; they have different rules and standards. The discipline is nowhere near an active duty unit.”

Now, with charges filed against her and a possible court-martial in her future, England is getting a crash course in military rules and standards.