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Judge Throws Out Guilty Plea of Abu Ghraib Female Prison Guard

A U.S. military judge at Fort Hood, in Texas, has thrown out 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. The case is now under review.

Following the surprising turn of events Wednesday that resulted in a declaration of mistrial, the decision on what charges, if any, should be brought against Private England is in the hands of Ft Hood commander Lieutenant General Thomas Metz. If he decides she should be charged, the case will then go to what the military court system calls an Article 32 proceeding, similar to a civilian grand jury.

The mistrial came about when the presiding judge, U.S. Army Colonel James Pohl, dropped the charge of conspiracy, which was among seven counts to which Private England had pleaded guilty earlier this week in a plea bargain arrangement. The judge acted after hearing testimony from Private Charles Graner that he had told Private England to hold the other end of a leash that was around an Iraqi prisoner's head so he could take a photograph. Graner, considered the ringleader of the abusive guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, was testifying for the defense in the sentencing phase of Private England's trial.

The judge, Colonel Pohl, threw out the conspiracy charge because he said it was impossible to have a conspiracy unless at least two people were involved and that Graner's testimony made it clear that he had instigated the humiliating photo sessions. In throwing out that charge, the entire plea bargain was cancelled. The judge also admonished defense lawyers for admitting testimony that ran counter to their client's guilty plea.

Under the plea bargain deal, Private England was facing a sentence no greater than 11 years in prison and most likely much less than that, although no details of the agreement were made public. Now, the case against the 22-year-old army reservist may go back through the military court system or be dropped completely, depending on what Ft Hood's commander decides.

Private Graner is serving a ten-year sentence after having been convicted of prisoner abuse at a trial also held at Ft Hood in January. Private England, who is believed to be carrying Graner's child, was featured in some of the most graphic and disturbing pictures to emerge from the Abu Ghraib scandal, including some in which she is seen smiling while standing by naked Iraqi prisoners.