England placed her faith in Pvt. Charles Graner, the former Pennsylvania prison guard described by prosecutors as the abuse ringleader, according to lead defense attorney Capt. Jonathan Crisp.
"The only place she felt safe was with him — she was happiest with him," Crisp told jurors during his opening statement Wednesday. "She was able to block out the surrealness of the environment she was in."
Prosecutors maintain England knowingly took part in a cruel conspiracy to hurt Iraqi detainees, and lawyers expected to present their case early Thursday.
England, 22, a reservist from West Virginia who appeared in some of the most notorious photographs from the scandal, was charged with conspiracy, maltreating detainees and committing an indecent act. If convicted, she faces up to 11 years in military prison.
Graner, who England has said fathered her young son while they were deployed, was scheduled to testify as a defense witness. He was convicted in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The prosecution indicated that its case will be built largely on the photos taken by Abu Ghraib guards in 2003, as well as testimony from several of the soldiers previously convicted.
Prosecutors allege that England's smiles and thumbs-up in the pictures show she was a willing, even eager, participant in the abuse.
"Pfc. England was very actively involved in what was going on," Capt. Chuck Neill told the jury of five Army officers.
England's defense team took a different approach than her co-defendants by opting for the all-officer jury, which was selected earlier Wednesday. 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 made plea deals.
In May, England tried to plead guilty to all the same counts she faces this week in exchange for an undisclosed sentencing cap.
But Col. James Pohl, the presiding judge, threw out the deal and declared a mistrial when testimony by Graner contradicted England's guilty plea.
Graner, a defense witness at the 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.