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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

England court-martial declared a mistrial

By Spc. Matthew Chlosta

FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, May 5, 2005) -- A military judge declared a mistrial at 1 p.m. May 4 during the court-martial of a Soldier who is accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison in the fall of 2003 in Iraq.

Pfc. Lynndie England, of the 372nd Military Police Co., Cumberland, Md., was charged after photos showing her with a leash around a detainee’s neck aired in numerous media outlets.

When testimony by Pfc. Charles Graner contradicted England’s plea statement, Col. James Pohl recessed the court. Following the recess, he entered a plea of not guilty on England’s behalf.

After Wednesday’s court action, England’s trial will now restart at its beginning minus the charges of dereliction of duty and committing an indecent act that were dismissed May 2 in a pretrial agreement. Dropping those charges reduced England’s potential sentence from 16 years to 11.

Pohl said the court-martial was a “mistrial of findings and mistrial of sentence. I’ve entered a not guilty plea on her behalf for the specification one, charge one. This trial is going to stop today, to be continued on some other day.”

“I’m disappointed on what happened today,” Capt. Jonathan Crisp, trial defense service, said as he left the Lawrence H. Williams Judicial Center.

Crisp said he will meet with government lawyers today to discuss the next step in the process.

The case will now be given back to the convening authority, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commanding general, III Corps and Fort Hood, for further action, said Capt. Cullen Sheppard, spokesman for the III Corps, Staff Judge Advocate’s Office.

England’s court-martial this week has been filled with more drama and plot twists then a daytime soap opera and her fate is still up in the air.

England, an Army Reserve administrative clerk, pleaded guilty Monday morning before her court-martial was to begin. The plea agreement put an undisclosed cap on her sentence.

England told the Military Judge at her arraignment, Pohl, that she was guilty of three counts of abuse, including: conspiracy, maltreatment and committing an indecent act between Oct. 23 and Nov. 8, 2003 at the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility at Abu Ghraib.

A sullen England responded with, “Yes, sir,” repeatedly when questioned by Pohl during the providence inquiry portion of her hearing.

She said, “It’s just wrong. I knew it was not only morally wrong, it was legally wrong,” referring to the now infamous photo of her posing with a leash attached to the neck of a naked detainee.

“You don’t wrap a leash around someone’s neck and tell them to crawl,” England said to Pohl during questioning. “I could’ve dropped the leash and walked away.”

England faced a possible maximum sentence of a dishonorable discharge, 11 years in a military prison, reduction in rank to private (E1), and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Tuesday morning, a military panel of six was whittled down during voir dire, from nine original members during questioning by lawyers from both sides for the sentencing phase of the court-martial.

After jury election, the Army’s trial counsel read the charges and the stipulation of fact England agreed to in her pre-trial guilty plea.

After the government rested, a few defense witnesses testified on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s for the members to decide,” Rick Hernandez, England’s civilian attorney, said at a short press conference with reporters outside the courthouse after court recessed at 4:53 p.m. Tuesday.

“She has taken responsibility for her part. It’s fairly obvious we want to see nothing (for punishment). We’re putting on a mitigation extenuation case showing her to be specifically who she is. They (the panel) can override the plea agreement to a lesser punishment; they cannot override the agreement to a greater punishment,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, a shackled Pvt. Charles Graner, 372nd Military Police Co., the alleged ringleader of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, now serving 10 years after his conviction at Fort Hood in January, testified for the defense under oath.

“He was a first-hand witness there,” Hernandez said. “He had observations there and he has a relationship with the accused. He is not a hostile witness.”

In continuing testimony Wednesday morning, Graner said the tether attached to the neck of an Iraqi prisoner that England was holding in the now infamous “leash picture” was being used as an extraction device.

His statement directly contradicted England’s plea of guilty to one charge of conspiracy and one specification of maltreatment in the same incident.

England said during the providence inquiry on Monday that Graner placed the strap directly around the prisoner’s neck.

Wednesday morning, however, Graner said he placed the tether around the detainee’s shoulders and it slid up to his neck during the extraction.

Pohl immediately stopped the testimony. He then dismissed the panel and admonished England’s defense team in a hearing.

“You cannot plead guilty then present evidence that you’re not guilty,” Pohl said to England and her lawyers.

Pohl recessed the court until 1 p.m. to let the defense attorneys talk with Graner and sort out the best plan of action for England.

During the break, Capt. Cullen Sheppard, spokesman, Staff Judge Advocate’s Office, III Corps, said, “If a defense is raised or a potential defense is raised, the judge has to inquire to ensure that a defense is not present to accept the plea of guilty on behalf of the accused. If the judge finds that there is a factual inconsistency with her plea, the judge may or will enter a plea of not guilty on her behalf, if the inconsistency cannot be resolved. It will be returned to the convening authority.”

“Potential action includes dismissing the charges, withdrawing the charges and re-referring to a general court-martial after an Article 32 has been conducted. (An Article 32 is similar to a civilian grand jury with slight differences),” Sheppard said.

Once court was back in session, Pohl said, “He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong,” in reference to the cell extraction and England’s role in it.

Graner testified that he took the three photographs to document the use of force to remove the prisoner from the cell.

England said Monday that she thought Graner took the pictures for amusement.

After considering the testimony, Pohl entered a plea of not guilty on England’s behalf, as now a defense of her actions has come to light in Graner’s testimony.

Crisp asked for an Article 32 hearing, which will be held at a later date.

If the case had continued, the panel may have deliberated and announced their decision by the end of the week.

Spc. Sabrina Harman, 372nd MP Co., will be the ninth enlisted Soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal to go to trial. Her court-martial is scheduled to start May 11.

(Editor’s note: Spc. Matthew Chlosta serves with the 4th Public Affairs Detachment at Fort Hood.)

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