Judge Accepts Abu Ghraib Plea

Army Pfc. Lynndie England arrives for a court hearing at Fort Hood, Texas, Monday, May 2, 2005. England is expected to plead guitly Monday to criminal charges arising from her role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. At back is her defense counsel Rick Hernandez. (AP Photo/LM Otero) AP

A military judge in Texas has accepted a guilty plea from Pfc. Lynndie England.

Private England, the young woman pictured grinning, giving a thumbs-up and holding a naked Iraqi by a leash in some of the most notorious photos to come out of the Abu Ghraib scandal, pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating prisoners.

Wearing her dress green Army uniform and speaking somberly in a soft voice, the 22-year-old Army reservist told the judge that she initially resisted taking part in the abuse at the Baghdad prison, but ultimately caved in to pressure from her comrades.

"I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to," she said, entering her pleas a day before the start of her trial.
A jury of officers and enlisted soldiers will now decide England's punishment, after a sentencing hearing. The hearing is expected to last several days.

She entered guilty pleas today to seven counts, including four counts of maltreating prisoners. In exchange, prosecutors dropped another count of committing an indecent act, and a count of dereliction of duty.

The charges carry up to 11 years in prison, but prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement for a lesser sentence. A military jury will convene on Tuesday to determine her punishment; she will get the lesser of the jury's sentence or the term agreed on in the plea bargain.

If she had been convicted as charged, she could have gotten 16 1/2 years behind bars.

Despite the maximum sentence, some court sources say England is likely to receive a 2 1/2 year sentence, CBS' Teri Okita reports.

England repeatedly answered "Yes, sir" as Pohl questioned her to make sure she understood her legal rights and the consequences of her pleas.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Bagnato reports that England turned to peer pressure and chain-of-command excuses when the judge then asked her a series of questions about the abuse instances and what she was thinking during them.

In particular, the judge focused on an instance where a prisoner had a leash placed around him. England says she was ordered to hold it and that the soldier in charge at the time, Spc. Charles Graner Jr., believed it would be degrading to the prisoner to have a female hold it.

"I assumed it was OK," England told the judge. She added that she didn't question it because Graner had corrections experience.

Graner is the only other soldier to stand trial so far for abuse at Abu Ghraib. He is serving a 10-year sentence.

Defense lawyer Rick Hernandez said last week that the defense would present evidence during sentencing that England has severe learning disabilities and mental health problems.

The plea agreement, which came the day before England was scheduled to go to trial, lowers her maximum possible sentence from 16 1/2 years in prison to 11 years.

"It's a deal that makes sense for all concerned," said CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "England gets a deal on a sentence in a case where she almost certainly would have been found guilty anyway — and that means a chance to be with her young son sooner. And the government gets to avoid another public rehash of those awful photographs detailing the abuse."

The judge asked her about a photo depicting her smiling and pointing at a naked detainee's genitals while smoking a cigarette. England said she replied, "No, no way" at first when a fellow soldier asked her to pose for the picture.

"But they were being very persistent, bugging me, so I said, `OK, whatever,'" she told the judge.
  • Christine Lagorio

Comments