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Soldier's statements ruled admissible in abuse case 

A military judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors in the court-martial of Pfc. Lynndie England may use a pair of statements she gave describing the posing of naked Iraqi prisoners as “joking around, having fun.”
Pfc Lynndie England arrives at a Fort Bragg courtroom for a pre trial hearing
England in court Wednesday.Hart Matthews / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors in Pfc. Lynndie England’s court-martial may use two statements she made in the early stages of the investigation, when she told military investigators that she and other soldiers were just “joking around, having some fun” when they posed for photographs with naked Iraqi prisoners.

Defense attorneys had sought to keep out the January statements, saying England was coerced by military interrogators who pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night, kept her in closed rooms for hours and failed to fully inform her of her right to have a lawyer present.

The judge, Col. Stephen Henley, did agree to keep out a third statement that England made to investigators on May 5, a few weeks after the photos taken at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison were made public and England had invoked her right to an attorney.

But the judge found that England knew what she was doing when she waived her right to an attorney and spoke during the earlier interviews.

Hearing recessed until Dec. 22
The rulings came on the second day of a hearing on pretrial motions in England’s court-martial, which is scheduled for Jan. 18. After Thursday’s session the pre-trial hearing was recessed until Dec. 22, at which time the court was to resume considering defense motions.

England, a 22-year-old Army reservist from Fort Ashby, W.Va., faces 19 charges of abuse and indecent acts. She could get 38 years in prison if convicted.

In arguing against the admission of the statements on Wednesday, defense attorney Rick Hernandez said England was pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and denied food in January, and was not fully aware of how her statements would be used.

He also argued that the statement she made in May was taken after she invoked her right to speak with an attorney.

“Those statements were not voluntary,” he said.

Investigators testified earlier Wednesday that England was read and understood her rights and willingly gave the interviews. They said that she was given breaks when she asked for them and that she could have ended the sessions and consulted an attorney at any time.

“Pfc. England gave full, voluntary, knowing and understanding waivers,” said the prosecutor, Capt. Carlton Terry. “No one forced her. No one promised her anything.”

Psychological study approved
Henley did grant a defense motion for a psychological inquiry into England’s “mental capacity or mental responsibility” for the abuse.

Henley also revealed that the defense had also filed a motion to throw out the prosecution’s key evidence: the infamous digital photographs showing England posing with Iraqi prisoners stacked in a nude pyramid, pointing at a hooded detainee’s genitals and holding a naked prisoner by a leash.

Arguments on that motion, originally scheduled for Thursday, were put off until Dec. 22.

The defense has suggested that the photos may have been doctored.

The defense maintains that England and others in her unit were acting on orders from military intelligence to “soften up” prisoners for interrogations by keeping them nude and humiliating them.

But Army investigators testified during hearings this summer that England said the abuse was basically just for fun or revenge, quoting her as saying reservists took the photos while “they were joking around, having some fun, during the night shift.”

England was one of seven members of the 372nd charged with humiliating and assaulting prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But her smiling, cigarette-smoking poses made her a focal point of the scandal.

Motion for separate trial denied
Also Wednesday, Henley denied a defense motion for a separate trial on three charges involving lewd photos of England and others taken during leave in Virginia Beach, Va. England also formally requested a military jury with at least one-third enlisted personnel, rather than a trial by a judge or a panel of officers.

Wednesday’s hearing was England’s first court appearance since she gave birth to a son in October. Attorneys have said the father is Spc. Charles Graner Jr., a fellow defendant.

Graner, pegged in testimony as the ringleader in the abuse, is scheduled for trial Jan. 7 at Fort Hood, Texas. Henley has yet to rule on a defense motion to grant Graner immunity for testifying at England’s court-martial.

Three other 372nd members have pleaded guilty and have received sentences ranging from reduction in rank to eight years in prison.