A jury of five Army officers was selected Wednesday to decide whether Pfc. Lynndie England abused prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.
The 22-year-old reservist from West Virginia, who is shown in graphic photos of prisoners taken by American guards, faces up to 11 years in a military prison if found guilty.
England is charged with two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of committing an indecent act.
Opening statements by prosecutors and the defense were scheduled later Wednesday, with the first prosecution witnesses to testify Thursday.
England’s defense team took a different approach than her co-defendants by opting for an all-officer jury. Two Abu Ghraib guards from the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company were convicted by juries made up of officers and enlisted personnel, and six soldiers reached plea deals.
Defense: Learning disabilities played role
Capt. Jonathan Crisp, the lead defense lawyer, has said he will argue that England’s learning disabilities made it hard for her to know right from wrong, or to resist stronger personalities.
Among the expected defense witnesses is Pvt. Charles Graner, described by prosecutors as the ringleader in the abuse by Abu Ghraib guards. The defense maintains that Graner, with his assertive manner, exerted a large measure of influence over England.
Graner, who England has said fathered her young son while they were deployed, was convicted in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The prosecution’s case will likely be built on the photos of England, which have made her the most recognizable figure in the scandal, as well as testimony from several of the soldiers previously convicted.
Prosecutors also have a statement England made to Army investigators in which she implicated herself in the abuse.
Judge changed mind on statements
Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge, ruled in July that neither of the two statements England made to investigators in January 2004 would be admissible. Pohl said at the time that he believed she did not fully understand the consequences when she waived her rights against self-incrimination.
On Tuesday, however, the judge changed his mind and will allow one of the statements into evidence.
In May, England tried to plead guilty to all the same counts she faces this week in exchange for an undisclosed sentencing cap. But Pohl threw out the deal and declared a mistrial during the sentencing phase when testimony by Graner contradicted England’s guilty plea.
Graner, a defense witness for sentencing, said pictures he took of England holding a prisoner on a leash were meant to be used as a training aid. But in her guilty plea, England said the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of Abu Ghraib guards.
Besides the leash image, photos show England smiling while standing next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid and pointing at a prisoner’s genitals.