US Army Private Lynndie England apologised for appearing in some of the most infamous pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, saying she did so at the behest of a boyfriend who took advantage of her love and trust.
England, speaking in response to questions from a defence lawyer, said she was embarrassed by the pictures.
“I heard attacks were made on coalition forces because of the photos,” she said yesterday before the jury of five US Army officers sentenced England to three years behind bars.
The charges against the 22-year-old reservist from rural West Virginia carried up to nine years, but prosecutor Captain Chris Graveline asked the jury to imprison her for four to six years. The defence asked for no time behind bars.
Neither prosecutors nor defence lawyers would speak with reporters after the sentence was announced.
England, who was convicted on Monday on six of seven counts involving prisoner mistreatment, spent some time with her 11-month-old son, Carter, before being escorted out of the Fort Hood courthouse. Her reddened eyes stared straight ahead as she made her way to a waiting van.
England was the most recognisable of the nine low-ranking reservists charged in the scandal that severely damaged the US’ image in the world and tarnished the US military at home and abroad.
In some of the pictures, England is shown holding a naked prisoner on a leash, posing with a pyramid of naked detainees and pointing at the genitals of a prisoner while a cigarette hangs from the corner of her mouth.
England’s defence contended she is a compliant person who took part in the detainee maltreatment to please Private Charles Graner Jr., who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the abuse by a group of US troops.
In a calm voice, she recounted how her relationship with Graner, 14 years her senior, developed as they prepared for deployment to Iraq with the 372nd Military Police Company in 2003.
“He was very charming, funny and at the time it looked to me like he was interested in the same things I was. … He made me feel good about myself,” she said. “I trusted him and I loved him. … Now I know it was just an act to lure me in.”
England said that Graner fathered her son.
Graner and another former guard were also convicted at trial, while six other soldiers struck plea bargains. Graner was sentenced to 10 years.
No officers have gone to trial, though several received administrative punishment.
Graner’s testimony yesterday supported that of a defence expert witness who said officers in charge at Abu Ghraib failed to control the guards, creating stressful conditions that disoriented England and led her to take part in the mistreatment.
Graner said he, England and others who worked the overnight shift in a high-security section of Abu Ghraib had scant supervision.
“It seems like the junior soldiers were on their own,” he said. “We had little leadership.”
Graner said he told officers about detainee maltreatment, which he claimed was done by order of military intelligence personnel. At times, he said, military intelligence officers actually were present for the abuse.
“I nearly beat an MI detainee to death with MI there,” he said before Colonel James Pohl, the judge, interrupted his testimony.
Stjepan Mestrovic, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University called as an expert witness by the defence, testified that England should be punished lightly because of the “poisonous environment” that existed at Abu Ghraib.
“She was caught up in this chaotic situation like everyone else,” said Mestrovic, who also testified that officers at Abu Ghraib “knew or should have known what was going on.”