Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More of the craziness of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib

This is a well-written article about all the nuttiness of the U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. When did they find the time to have all that sex?

Here are excerpts. Click on the link for the whole article.


May 10, 2005

Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, a Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals


In a military courtroom in Texas last week was a spectacle worthy of "As the World Turns": Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the defendant, holding her 7-month-old baby; the imprisoned father, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., giving testimony that ruined what lawyers said was her best shot at leniency; and waiting outside, another defendant from the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Megan M. Ambuhl, who had recently wed Private Graner - a marriage Private England learned about only days before.

To some, the grave misdeeds at Abu Ghraib, where the three soldiers worked for six months in 2003, have become a twisted symbol of the American military occupation of Iraq. But the scandal is also one rooted in the behavior of military reservists working at the prison, an environment that testimony has portrayed as more frat house than military prison, a place where inmates were routinely left naked and soldiers took pictures of one another simulating sex with fruit.

The reservists' treatment of Iraqi prisoners and their entanglements with one another - pieced together from documents, court testimony, e-mail and interviews - have produced a dark soap opera, one whose episodes have continued to play out in the months since the scandal erupted, and culminated in the Texas courtroom last week.

As with any soap opera, past episodes help explain the most recent.

Private England, who is now waiting for charges to be filed against her again, and Private Graner began dating while they were training with their Army Reserve unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, Md.

A hell-raising young woman from West Virginia, Private England, now 22, was married at 19, on a whim, she told friends, and violated her parents' wishes when she joined the Reserve in high school to make money for college.

Private Graner, 36, a Pennsylvania prison guard and a former marine, had rejoined the military in a burst of patriotism after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He was fresh from an ugly divorce in 2000. His ex-wife, Staci Morris, had taken out three protective orders against him, and after he was arrested for harassing her in 2001, Private Graner admitted that he had dragged her around by her hair.

He introduced the two women, and Ms. Morris said she felt "selfish relief" that with someone new, her ex-husband would stop being obsessed with her. And she liked Private England, finding her quiet and adoring.

"If he was as charming with her as he is with most women at the beginning, I can understand it," Ms. Morris said. "Charming, compliments, you name it. The things you would love to hear as a young woman."


In Iraq, Private England was disciplined several times for sleeping with Private Graner, against military rules. She flouted warnings to stay on the wing where she worked as a clerk, and spent most of her nights in the cellblock where he worked the night shift.

One night in October, he told her to pose for photographs holding a leash tied around the neck of a naked and crawling detainee. He e-mailed one home: "Look what I made Lynndie do." The now infamous pictures of detainees masturbating, he said, were a birthday gift for her.

Specialist Ambuhl, who has been discharged from the Army, was Private Graner's partner on the nightshift. If he and Private England were loud and bawdy - they made a video of themselves having sex - Ms. Ambuhl was soft-spoken and serious. Private England had joined the army to see the world; Ms. Ambuhl had already been on college study trips to Kenya and the Galapagos Islands. She had worked as a technician in a medical laboratory in Virginia, where she grew up, and like Private Graner, signed up to defend the nation after Sept. 11.

She had been involved with another soldier in the unit. But by late December, she had ended that relationship and started one with Private Graner. In e-mail messages, the two dreamily recalled their nights stolen away in the crowded prison cells where the military police lived.

"I was missing u too," she wrote just after Christmas 2003. "When I heard your voice coming up the stairs, it made me happy and kinda nervous too (goodnervous)." She reassured him that she would not get back together with her ex-boyfriend.


But on Jan. 13, a soldier slipped investigators a disk with the graphic photographs of detainees. The investigation began the next day.

Private Graner, quickly identified as the ringleader in the abuse, e-mailed his father in early March to discuss the accusations against him, then popped "more good news:" Private England was two months pregnant - he spelled her name Lynndee - and the pregnancy would most likely get them sent home from Iraq.


Private England - but not Private Graner - was sent back to the United States because of the pregnancy. The Army moved Private Graner and Ms. Ambuhl, along with four other soldiers under investigation, to a tent apart from the rest of their unit. And they resumed their relationship.

In April, Ms. Ambuhl e-mailed Private Graner an article headlined, "Study Finds Frequent Sex Raises Cancer Risk." She added, "We could have died last night."

Privates England and Graner were no longer speaking when their son was born in October. She named him Carter Allan England.


Ms. Ambuhl had gone back to work at the laboratory and was living with her parents. They accompanied her to Fort Hood for the wedding in April. Another man stood in for Private Graner, because he had begun serving his sentence and Ms. Ambuhl, as an admitted co-conspirator, is not allowed to see him.

Private England heard about the wedding from her lawyers, who heard about it from a reporter the Friday before her trial was to begin. She had worked out a plea agreement that limited her time in prison to 30 months, and the jury could have given her less time. She planned to have her son live with her mother while she was in prison.


The day before his testimony, Private Graner sent a note to reporters saying he regretted that "Lynn" had pleaded guilty and hoped her plea would get her a light sentence. Private England did not return any such affection. She leaned down to a courtroom artist sketching Mr. Graner: "Don't forget the horns and goatee."

Prosecutors advised defense lawyers against putting Private Graner on the stand, but they did it anyway. He testified that he had ordered Private England to remove a prisoner from a cell by a leash and that it had been a legitimate military exercise. This presented what seemed to be a contradiction - a defendant pleading guilty butpresenting a witness who testified that she was innocent. The military judge threw out her plea agreement and ordered that the court-martial process start over.

"It's nothing you did," the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, told her, "It's what he did."

Private England turned to Ms. Morris. "Well, he screws everything up, doesn't he?" Ms. Morris recalled Private England saying.

"I have to agree with you," Ms. Morris replied.

No comments: