Judge Declares Mistrial in Abu Ghraib Prison Abuse Case

RALPH BLUMENTHAL and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

New York Times

May 4, 2005

FORT HOOD, Tex., May 4 - A United States Army judge declared a mistrial in the court martial of Pfc. Lynndie England today after expressing doubts about whether she had been aware that she was committing a crime when she abused Iraqi prisoners.

The mistrial means that Private England's deal with military prosecutors, under which she agreed to plead guilty, is invalid. Her case goes next to Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of the Army's Third Corps at Fort Hood, who has a wide range of options, including ordering a nonjudicial punishment or directing that the case be reinvestigated. General Metz has jurisdiction in the case because he was the commander of ground forces in Iraq at the time the abuse occurred.

Before declaring a mistrial, the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, had halted the proceedings briefly after a witness, Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., testified that photographs of naked prisoners taken at Abu Ghraib Prison near Baghdad had a legitimate training use for guards. Private Graner also said he had ordered Private England to hold a leash around the neck of a detainee and said that the leash had become attached to the prisoner's neck by accident.

Private Graner's explanation contradicted Private England's testimony earlier this week, when she told the judge that she knew that the photographs of naked prisoners were intended solely for the amusement of American military guards, including herself, and that she understood her actions were wrong.

Testimony by Private England and other witnesses speaking on her behalf was intended to mitigate her actions and secure a shorter prison term, but Colonel Pohl warned several times that it was verging on a statement of her innocence.

"If you don't want to plead guilty, don't," the judge told her this morning. "Am I missing something here?"

Once court resumed this afternoon, Colonel Pohl said the contradiction between Private England's guilty plea for conspiring to mistreat prisoners and Private Graner's testimony could not be resolved.

"You can't have a one-person conspiracy," Colonel Pohl said.

Private Graner, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, has been described as Private England's former boyfriend and the father of a child she gave birth to last year.

On Tuesday, Private Graner, 36, passed a statement to reporters as he waited to testify that said, "Knowing what happened in Iraq, it was upsetting to see Lynn plead guilty to her charges." But he added hopes that her plea would result in a lesser sentence, and he said he was sending her "love and support" from people "all over."

Before today's mistrial, Private England, 22, had pleaded guilty to seven counts of abuse, including conspiracy, and faced up to 11 years in prison, though people close to the prosecution said she was more likely to receive a sentence of 30 months or so. Widely publicized photographs showed Private England smiling and gesturing at naked prisoners and holding a prisoner with a dog leash around his neck. This morning, Private Graner gave his account of the photographs showing Private England with the leashed prisoner.

"I wrapped what I called a tether around his shoulder," Private Graner said. "At one point, it slipped around his neck. I asked her to hold the end."

Private Graner said he then took three photographs.

Today was not the first time that Private England's capacity to discern right from wrong has surfaced in her court-martial.

Earlier this week, a psychologist, Thomas C. Denne, the director of assessment of the Mineral County schools in the poor West Virginia area where Private England grew up, portrayed her as a troubled child, born a "blue baby" deprived of oxygen, and suffering from a malformation of her tongue that required it to be clipped. As a result, he said, she was "electably mute - we knew she could talk, she just didn't."

Private England was so shy in kindergarten, Dr. Denne continued, that she spoke only to a teacher's aide and would not answer his questions. Dr. Denne tested her again in the second, fifth and eighth grades and found her to suffer, he said, from an inability to process information, an ailment affecting fewer than 2 children in 100.

But Dr. Denne said that by high school Private England had learned to manage her disability so that she graduated with a 3.0 average and was accepted by the Army Reserves.

Colonel Pohl interrupted Dr. Denne's testimony to ask, "Are you saying she had trouble telling right from wrong?"

Dr. Denne replied, "I don't know that with great certainty, sir."

Judge Pohl was not satisfied. "The problem here," he told defense lawyers, "is you're creating some inference she had trouble knowing right from wrong."

The judge then instructed the jurors that in her guilty plea Private England "admitted she knew it was wrong and chose to do it."