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Prison scandal soldier had a poor record, say colleagues

FORT BRAGG, N.C.—Half a dozen friends and colleagues of Pfc. Lynndie England, a central figure in the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal, painted an unflattering picture of the young soldier Wednesday at a military hearing, describing lax work habits, unexplained late-night absences and nude pictures taken during a Virginia Beach, Va., vacation.

Spc. Matthew Bollinger, who was England's supervisor during the six months she worked as a clerk at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, told the hearing he reprimanded her on numerous occasions for failing to obey orders and for visiting the concrete two-story building where her boyfriend, Cpl. Charles Graner, worked the night shift.

"She was sneaking out in the middle of the night, going out to the hard site prison. She was not getting adequate sleep," Bollinger said. He said England and Graner were caught in bed together on several occasions. Bollinger and other witnesses from the 372nd Military Police Company testified by telephone from Fort Lee, Va.

Photographs showing England and Graner mistreating Iraqi detainees sparked international outrage earlier this year. Graner has been charged with multiple counts of abuse as well as adultery due to his relationship with England. Graner's case is pending court-martial, along with the cases of Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Sgt. Javal Davis, also from the 372nd MP Company.

The military hearing, which began Tuesday and is expected to last all week, is for Army commanders to determine whether England, of Fort Ashby, W.Va., also should face court-martial.

England's lawyers have complained that the Army has made her a scapegoat for systemic problems at the overcrowded and understaffed prison. They noted that while England is charged with multiple counts of assault, abuse and indecent acts with prisoners, the most serious charges against her relate to her sexual relationship with Graner and to the sexually explicit photos the couple took together.

On Wednesday, Ed Rivas, a military intelligence supervisor who coordinated interrogations, testified that he'd never seen any "abuse, maltreatment or assaults" on detainees at Abu Ghraib. Rivas said he'd seen interrogators use humiliation to try to get prisoners to talk in other locations. He testified by phone from Iraq.

There was also testimony detailing some of the already well-known incidents depicted in photos that were made public last spring.

Spc. Matthew Wisdom said he'd witnessed abuse the night of Nov. 7, when seven detainees thought to have participated in a riot were escorted through a holding area known as the "hard site."

"The inmates had sandbags on their heads so they couldn't see," Wisdom recalled. He said Graner, Frederick and Davis "would run them into walls and things."

At one point, the detainees were thrown on the ground and piled on top of one another, Wisdom said. Graner, Frederick and Davis "began to rotate around the circle of detainees and abuse them, hit them."

Wisdom said he immediately reported the incident to his supervisor, Sgt. Robert Jones. Jones confirmed the account and reported it to another sergeant, but didn't pursue it personally because he felt "my job is to give that military police and that police officer the benefit of the doubt until I see otherwise."

Wisdom said England was present Nov. 7.

Another witness, Spc. Steven Strother, testified that he'd vacationed at Virginia Beach with England and Graner, and that when he'd passed out, Graner and England took snapshots of each other posing nude next to him.

"It was just a joke, ma'am," Strother told Capt. Karin Tackaberry, a member of the Army's investigating team.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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