US soldier guilty of prisoner abuse

A United States military panel on Monday convicted Private Lynndie England on six out of seven counts of mistreating Iraqi prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad.

The panel of five officers only cleared the 22-year-old private of conspiring to maltreat a prisoner in the incident that made her infamous—holding a dog leash tied to the neck of a naked prisoner.

But she could still face 10 years in prison. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.

The scandal brought international condemnation of the US as it struggled to defend its March 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

England became the public face of the scandal after photographs, taken in October and November of 2003, of the soldier holding a leash attached to a naked prisoner were shown around the world.

England sat silently in the courtroom as the verdict was read. Unlike her first trial, neither her parents nor her baby, fathered by abuse ring-leader Charles Graner, were present.

England did not comment to reporters about the verdict.
Her lawyer, Captain Jonathan Crisp, said afterwards “the only thing I can say now is I understand”.

Command breakdown

Crisp told the court that he hoped to introduce evidence at the sentencing hearing showing that a breakdown in the chain of command led to “the development of a deviant norm” at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities.

“There was no clear guidance in what was permissible in the treatment of detainees,” Crisp told the court.

Prosecutor Captain Chris Graveline said he planned to introduce a deposition by Brigadier General Mark Kiminitt—who was deputy director of operations in Iraq during the scandal—showing that England’s actions had a detrimental impact on morale and the mission.

There is no minimum sentence associated with England’s charges. The same panel that determined her guilt will now decide her fate by weighing mitigating factors introduced by the defence and aggravating factors introduced by the prosecution.

England’s lawyers had argued that a learning disability and her compliant personality led her to follow instructions from the charismatic Graner.

The prosecution argued that England was having fun while she stepped on the toes of naked prisoners forced to form a human pyramid and posed for pictures pointing at the genitals of naked, hooded Iraqis.

They have also argued that all US soldiers are given sufficient training to know that physical and mental abuse of prisoners is against the law.

During the court martial, Graner testified that he and England did nothing wrong when he told her to hold the leash while he took a photograph that he purportedly argued would be used for training purposes.

Mistrial

Her first court martial was declared a mistrial in May because of similar statements by Graner. The judge said there could not be a conspiracy of one person.

The new panel found England guilty of conspiring with four other soldiers to maltreat prisoners by stripping them naked and placing them in a human pyramid.

She was found guilty of four counts of maltreatment of detainees for posing with a detainee in a picture with the leash around his neck, pointing a finger at the word “rapeist” (sic) written on the exposed buttocks of a prisoner, posing for a photo with naked prisoners forced to form a human pyramid, and by posing for a photo pointing at the genitals of a naked detainee.

England was found guilty of committing an indecent act while posing for a photograph with a group of detainees who had been forced to masturbate in a corridor of the jail in the Baghdad suburbs.

The private is the ninth and last soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

No officer has been tried, though the prison’s former commander, army reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, and military intelligence officer Colonel Thomas Pappas were punished in nonjudicial proceedings.

More allegations

England’s conviction comes after Human Rights Watch said on Friday that troops from the army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division routinely beat and mistreated Iraqi prisoners at a base near Fallujah in central Iraq with the approval of their superior officers.

The rights group said three soldiers—two sergeants and a captain who were not identified by name—provided the accounts of abuse.

Detainees, known as PUCs, or “persons under control”, were subjected to stress positions, extremes of hot and cold, sleep deprivation, denied food and water and piled in human pyramids, the report said.

The report said that in many cases the abuses were specifically ordered by military intelligence before interrogations, and that it was widely known by superior officers both inside and outside of military intelligence.—AFP

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