Lynndie England Trial Farce

Wed May 4, 2005 8:29 PM EDT

The latest news on the Lynndie England case:

A military judge Wednesday threw out Pfc. Lynndie England's guilty plea to abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, saying he was not convinced the Army reservist who appeared in some of the most notorious photos in the scandal knew her actions were wrong at the time.

Now the way military law works is that the judge could have accepted a guilty plea only if England was able to prove that she knew at the time that what she was doing was wrong. Hence, the judge must verify that England wasn't simply talked into a guilty plea by her lawyers or others. This latest ruling resulted in a mistrial, and the case will now be reviewed, with military authorities deciding what charges, if any, will be brought against England.

The mistrial was declared after Pvt. Charles Graner, with whom England was accused of conspiring to maltreat detainees, testified for the defense. He told the judge that "the pictures he took of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash at Abu Ghraib were meant to be used as a legitimate training aid for other guards." But when England pleaded guilty on Monday, she told the judge that "she knew that the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of the guards."

There are still a lot of questions to be answered here. First of all, why is England trying to take the fall for the abuses when someone higher up—namely, Graner—already insisted that he was innocent and that he was simply following orders? It could be that, since Graner was found guilty anyway, England's lawyers just assumed she would be found guilty as well. But that doesn't explain why England's attorneys would call Graner as a defense witness when it seemed pretty obvious that he was going to muck up the "guilty" defense. Graner, after all, maintains to this day that he and the other Abu Ghraib guards were just following orders from higher-up interrogators.

But even more perplexing than the inconsistencies in the defense's pursuit of a "guilty" plea is the fact that they didn't push for a non-guilty plea. There's enough evidence in the military reports thus far, and in the FOIA documents that have been made public, to implicate higher-ups in the detainee abuses. Add this compelling evidence to Graner's testimony, and it makes you wonder why England's attorneys weren't pushing to expose the larger truth.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.