FORT BRAGG, N.C.—The military hearing to determine whether Pfc. Lynndie England will face a court-martial for abusing Iraqi detainees took an unexpected turn Friday, as last-minute testimony and the emergence of new tasteless photos undermined the cases of both England's defense and the Army's prosecution.
Army prosecutors produced a sworn statement in which England contradicted her earlier statements that she was ordered to abuse prisoners. And the defense claimed to know of photos in which key prosecution witnesses were depicted doing pranks of a sexual nature similar to those that form the basis of indecency charges against England.
The prosecutors hope to undermine the credibility of England while the defense is attempting to convince a military judge that the photos provide graphic evidence that many in the Army company assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison were prone to aberrant social behavior.
During the hearing, two Army investigators testified that England had signed a sworn statement following an April 30 interview at Fort Bragg in which she admitted stepping on detainees and posing in front of naked prisoners.
Special Agent James Stewart said England also told him no one ordered her to abuse detainees and that her purpose had been to "humiliate" them.
The testimony directly contradicted England's claim that she and the other five members of the 372nd Military Police Company were softening up detainees at the behest of military interrogators in order to encourage them to cooperate in investigations.
Special Agent William Hughes said England did say that personnel from military intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency "would tell us we were doing a good job and to keep it up." But Hughes said England was unable to identify or describe any of those people.
Tony Vieira, one of England's attorneys, challenged Hughes on cross-examination, noting it was a routine practice for interrogators and intelligence operatives to cover-up their nametags or to remove them. Without a photo line-up, "how was it that you gave her any real opportunity to identify any of these people?" he said.
The defense team also sought to cast doubt on the credibility of four key witnesses by suggesting they had engaged in the same sort of misconduct that England has been charged with.
In addition to abusing detainees, England faces a maximum penalty of 23 years in military prison for indecent acts and disobedience for posing for nude pictures with her boyfriend Cpl. Charles Graner, another soldier accused in the case, and for sneaking off to sleep in his bed. England is about seven months pregnant with Graner's child.
The revelations about the photographs came during an unusual repeat questioning of four of the prosecution's witnesses.
In separate telephone interviews from Fort Lee, Va., Vieira quizzed the soldiers about whether they had ever seen members of the 372nd Military Police Company mooning, streaking or engaging in simulated homosexual acts. He asked whether they had seen any photos of such acts and whether they occurred in front of female soldiers.
Spc. Matthew Bollinger said he didn't recall. Spc. Matthew Wisdom said mooning "could happen at any time." Spc. Steven Strothers said such pranks were possible.
Sgt. Robert Jones, one of the four who was Wisdom's supervisor, said horseplay was common in Iraq, as were digital cameras. "It's possible the females saw the horseplay, but it was never deliberate sir," Jones said.
The hearing office will consider defense requests Saturday to call more witnesses.
(Ackerman reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.