Iraq Abuse Plea In Peril?

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The reputed ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on Wednesday called into question whether Pfc. Lynndie England knew she was committing wrongful acts when she took part in the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.

The testimony of Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., contending that notorious photos taken of England at the prison were to have a legitimate use, could endanger England's guilty plea to seven abuse charges. Under military law, a judge can formally accept her guilty plea only if she knew at the time that what she was doing was illegal.

Graner claimed the incident in which a leash was put on a detainee was a legitimate technique for moving threatening prisoners, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Bagnato. The judge, Col. James Pohl, then warned England she can't plead guilty if she believes she's not.

Graner's statement contradicted England's contention Monday, when she pleaded guilty. She told the judge that day that she knew at the time that the pictures were taken purely for the amusement of the guards at the Baghdad prison.

When the defense presented evidence that no crime may have been committed, the judge voiced doubts about the plea and he is now reconsidering it, Bagnato added. He will question England again Wednesday afternoon to try to clarify her state when the abusive acts occurred.

"If the judge doesn't believe she believes she's guilty, he's obligated to enter not guilty on her behalf," Army legal expert Captain Cullen Shepperd told Bagnato.

Graner, of Uniontown, Pa., was found guilty in January and is serving a 10-year prison term for his role in the scandal.

On Tuesday, Graner said he was unhappy that England pleaded guilty in a handwritten note given to reporters. Graner said he wanted England to fight the charges.

"Knowing what happened in Iraq, it was very upsetting to see Lynn plead guilty to her charges," wrote Graner. "I would hope that by doing so she will have a better chance at a good sentence."

Graner continues to argue that he and the other Abu Ghraib guards were following orders from higher-ranking interrogators when they abused the detainees.

"He also is an in-court reminder to jurors that England is a new mother -- apparently his child," said CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

England, 22, pleaded guilty Monday to seven counts of mistreating prisoners. She told the court that the physical beatings and sexual humiliation were done for the guards' entertainment and took responsibility for the smiling, thumbs-up poses she struck for photographs that made her the face of the prisoner abuse scandal.

In one of the photos, England held a leash looped around the neck of a hooded, naked prisoner. Another showed her next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid, while a third depicted England pointing at a prisoner's genitals.

Her lawyers sought leniency Tuesday from the Army jury of five men and one woman that will determine her punishment.
  • Christine Lagorio

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