England Expected to Enter Guilty Plea
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The young woman who's come to be seen as the face of the prison abuse scandal will be arraigned today in Ft. Hood, Texas. Lynndie England is expected to plead guilty to charges she abused Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. NPR's Ari Shapiro is in Ft. Hood and joins us now.
Remind us who Lynndie England is, or maybe give us more details. I think a lot of us know who she is.
ARI SHAPIRO reporting:
Right. She's the young woman from West Virginia who, a year ago, was pictured in these now infamous photographs out of Abu Ghraib prison. In one of them, she's seen holding a prisoner on a dog leash. In another one, she gives a thumbs up, points and smiles at a lineup of Iraqi detainees. There's another where she's posing in front of a pyramid and, she really has become sort of the image of the prison abuse scandal. At the time the photographs were taken, she was 21 years old. She was working as a clerk at the prison. Now she's 22, she is a new mother with a baby boy and she's been doing clerical work at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina since she was flown back to the States last year. And now she's in Texas for this trial today.
MONTAGNE: And what does this guilty plea mean?
SHAPIRO: In exchange for her guilty plea, two of the original nine counts against her will be dropped. That means she faces a lighter maximum sentence of 11 rather than the initial 16 years that she was looking at. The plea has to be accepted by a military judge--we expect that to happen today--and then the actual sentence will be decided upon by a jury of her peers, of other soldiers, later this week.
MONTAGNE: And can you tell us why she decided to plead guilty?
SHAPIRO: Well, originally, her lawyers were actually talking about putting up a very vigorous defense. They were going to argue that she followed orders from higher-ups, that she was told to soften up detainees for interrogations. But there have been other soldiers that tried that defense and failed. For example, Charles Graner, who was convicted earlier this year, tried that defense and he's now serving 10 years in prison. So I think her lawyers believed the chances of it working for England, particularly with the photographs against her, seemed pretty slim. So when the defense lawyers were able to work out a deal with the prosecutors, it seemed as though they thought that gave their client a better chance than going to trial and pleading not guilty.
MONTAGNE: So this deal would seem to leave open only the question of her sentencing. What sort of evidence will her lawyers present to a jury about that?
SHAPIRO: Well, they say they'll portray England as a young, naive woman who didn't have experience in prison work and was manipulated by people older than her, including Charles Graner, who's one of the people I mentioned earlier. He's been described as a ringleader of the abuses. He's also believed to be the father of Lynndie England's new child. And the defense lawyers plan to call him to the stand to testify to the fact that he influenced England to carry out some of these abuses that she's been accused of.
MONTAGNE: And does the fact, Ari, that this case will not go to a full trial mean it's less likely that we'll learn the details and context of how these abuses came to happen?
SHAPIRO: You know, initially, legal observers were really hopeful about these trials for these low-ranking enlisted soldiers. They thought that some of the witnesses called to the stand could perhaps show how this epidemic of abuse came about. And `epidemic' really is the right word. There have been more than 300 cases investigated now in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Afghanistan and US-run prisons around Iraq, not just Abu Ghraib.
But the defense teams were not able to call some of the high-ranking officials that they had hoped for, people like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who used to be in charge of US troops in Iraq. And so at this point, many of the people watching these proceedings have really given up hope that the trials of low-ranking soldiers could give us much new information about the Abu Ghraib and other prison abuse scandals in US-run prisons overseas.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Ari Shapiro in Ft. Hood, Texas.
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