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Soldier in Abu Ghraib case to plead not guilty

Judge rejected earlier confession to prisoner abuse

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Attorneys for Lynndie England, the Army private who appeared in some of the most notorious photos of inmate abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, said yesterday that she will plead not guilty when the Army reopens her court-martial later this summer on charges of mistreating Iraqi prisoners.

Earlier this year, the 22-year-old had agreed to plead guilty to several charges in return for reduced prison time. But an Army judge threw out her plea in May, saying the confession she had worked out with Army prosecutors was not believable.

The Army has since filed a new case against England, including most but not all of the charges she faced before. The announcement yesterday that she intends to fight the charges in court means her court-martial -- to be held here in August or September -- could be the most dramatic legal case tied to the Abu Ghraib scandal.

England could still negotiate a new plea bargain with prosecutors. But that seems unlikely because the presiding judge at her court-martial will be Army Colonel James L. Pohl, who threw out England's earlier guilty plea. At a preliminary hearing yesterday, Pohl rejected a defense motion that he turn the case over to another judge.

Pohl ruled in May that England's guilty plea was invalid because he found evidence that she felt she was following orders of her superiors when she posed in photos with naked prisoners. That belief constitutes a valid defense to the charges, the judge said, and so a guilty plea was not permitted under military law.

The abuse at Abu Ghraib became public in the spring of last year with the release of scores of photographs that showed Iraqi prisoners, some of them naked, hooded, and shackled, being taunted and harassed by England and other US soldiers. The graphic pictures prompted denunciation of the US Army around the world.

Pentagon reports blamed Army commanders at the prison as well as senior commanders in Iraq for the Abu Ghraib scandal.

In the criminal courts, though, the Army has prosecuted only junior enlisted soldiers. No officers at the prison, and no one in the overall chain of command, has faced criminal charges in the case; some officers were given reprimands.

Seven enlisted soldiers have pleaded guilty. Private Charles A. Graner Jr., identified by the Army as the ringleader of the prison guards, was convicted of abuse charges in a court-martial and sentenced to 10 years in jail. England, a reservist from West Virginia, was an office clerk with no training as a prison guard when the Army stationed her at Iraq's toughest prison in 2003. At 19, she was the most junior soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib case.

Although she signed a confession saying she recognized her conduct at the prison was wrong, she later told Pohl that she only did what Graner told her to do.

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