At Fort Hood, in Texas, a U.S. military judge has accepted a guilty plea agreement for U.S. Army Private First Class Lynndie England, who appeared in many of the most graphic photographs of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison last year.
US Army Colonel James Pohl, who is serving as the judge in the trial of Private England, accepted the plea deal made between her attorneys and military prosecutors after questioning her closely on the details of the plea arrangement.
Private England appeared in some of the most infamous and unsavory photographs that appeared in press reports around the world last year as the Abu Ghraib scandal unfolded.
Now that the plea bargain has been accepted, the fate of the 22-year-old army reservist will be in the hands of a panel that is expected to meet over the next few days to determine her sentence. Private England pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to mistreat prisoners, four counts of prisoner maltreatment and one count of committing an indecent act. Under the terms of the deal, prosecutors dropped one count of committing an indecent act and one count of dereliction of duty.
The plea agreement lowers the maximum possible sentence the Army Reserve private could have received from a possible 16-and-a-half years to 11 years. But, under the terms of the plea bargain, the sentence is likely to be less than that. During the sentencing phase of the proceedings, defense attorneys are expected to present evidence that Private England suffers from mental health disorders and severe learning disabilities. The England defense team will also put blame on superior officers who they claim condoned and encouraged the activities at the prison as part of a program to soften up prisoners for interrogation.
The defense strategy may also rely on portraying Private England as under the influence of the man considered the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Private Charles Graner, who is reportedly the father of a child she bears. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence after having been convicted of prisoner abuse in a trial at Ft. Hood in January.
Answering questions from the judge on Monday, Private England portrayed Graner as the one giving orders and directions to her and other guards at the prison. She says it was his suggestion that she pose for a now infamous photo in which she can be seen holding the other end of a leash placed around the neck of an Iraqi prisoner. She says she looked to Graner for leadership because he was a military policeman who had worked as a prison guard in civilian life.
But, in response to the judge, Private England also acknowledged her own culpability, telling the judge, "I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to."