Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Iraq abuse photos were `just for fun'

ROGUE SOLDIERS US reservists at Abu Ghraib were just having some fun during the night shift, a hearing over Private Lynndie England's involvement was told

THE GUARDIAN , FORT BRAGG,NORTH CAROLINA

Private Lynndie England, left, arrives with one of her attorneys, Kristin Didonato, at a hearing to determine if she will be tried on charges ranging from prisoner abuse to committing indecent acts in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Private Lynndie England, the woman who has become the emblem of the US' shame over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, on Tuesday showed little expression aside from an occasional nervous giggle at a hearing to determine whether she should face the full weight of a court martial.

When first confronted with pictures of her gloating over naked and cowering Iraqi prisoners, England had shown no alarm, telling the officer who led the investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq: "It was just for fun."

That lack of comprehension returned to haunt her yesterday as the prevailing view of the US military -- that England and the handful of other lowly reservists charged in the abuse were rogue soldiers -- began to emerge more fully.

"They didn't think it was that serious. They were just joking around and having some fun during the night shift," Chief Warrant Officer Paul Arthur told the court.

He added later: "From the get-go, it was jokes and frustration."

In the drab courtroom on a military base in North Carolina, England looked even younger than her 21 years, and her pregnancy -- now in its seventh month -- was concealed beneath the loose tunic of her camouflage uniform.

She is the only soldier accused in the abuse scandal to face legal proceedings in the US. She was returned to Fort Bragg last spring because of her pregnancy, and has spent her time doing administrative work at the base.

Aside from her legal team, she had only one ally in the court on Tuesday, her mother, Terrie. They are in for some lurid proceedings over the next few days as the court details England's alleged role in the abuse, and her relationship with the alleged ringleader, Corporal Charles Graner, who is the father of her child.

If England is convicted on all 19 charges, she could face 38 years in the brig. Some 25 witnesses are to appear including Specialist Joseph Darby, the soldier who first came forward about the abuse, and Specialist Jeremy Sivitz, who was granted relative leniency for cooperating with the investigation.

Graner, and the other soldiers facing separate proceedings in Baghdad, will not appear although other soldiers are expected to give testimony over the phone from Iraq.

Although the focus of the proceedings yesterday was England, it was impossible to escape a greater impression of a dysfunctional administration at Abu Ghraib.

Much of the prosecution's evidence is from photographs, with more than 280 images of abuse of detainees, and of England engaged in sex acts with Graner. The images first came to the attention of the authorities last January.

Arthur, a member of the military CID, was at Abu Ghraib when a soldier in England's military police unit slipped a packet under his door containing CDs of scores of horrific images. Naked prisoners were stacked in human pyramids, others were made to simulate sex acts. One man trembled in front of two dogs, and England tugged at the end of a dog leash coiled around the neck of an Iraqi detainee lying on the floor of his cell.

Arthur said England never worked on the cell block, but visited the wing after hours to visit her lover.

"I don't think she received orders from military intelligence," he said. "It came through the grapevine, or was implied."

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