Lynndie England in plea bargain to cut prison term

Lynndie England, the crop-haired US army reservist who starred in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos, has agreed to plead guilty at a court martial today to reduced charges that will cut her maximum sentence to 11 years.

Under a deal worked out with military prosecutors, the 22-year-old private will plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of dereliction of duty. Two other charges, which could have raised the jail term to 16-and-a-half years, have been dropped.

Ultimately England - who was pictured holding a dog leash attached to a naked Iraqi prisoner - may serve no more than 30 months behind bars, prosecutors acknowledge.

Even so, the sentencing will make her the second soldier to face trial and conviction for their part in the scandal, which shocked the world when it became public exactly a year ago.

The first is Specialist Charles Graner, the father of England's recently born child, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of beating and sexually humiliating prisoners. A third low-ranking soldier, Specialist Sabrina Harman, is due to go on trial on 11 May.

As matters stand, these trials will draw the legal line under a scandal that inflicted lasting damage to the image of the US, across the Muslim world and beyond. But they have also served to reinforce charges of a whitewash, where senior officers and their political masters escaped scot-free, while lower ranking soldiers were made scapegoats.

All along, Private England and her lawyers have claimed that the culture at Abu Ghraib consisted of "doing what you're told". But, last week, an investigation cleared four army officers, including Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who was commander of US forces in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib was but the most lurid of allegations of abuse of prisoners by US personnel, ranging from Iraq to Afghanistan to the special detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"This pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by senior US officials to bend, ignore or cast rules aside," Reed Brody, a special counsel for Human Rights Watch, said.

"Only the soldiers at the bottom of the chain, such as Lynndie England and Charles Graner, who were photographed at Abu Ghraib, are taking the heat. Yet General Sanchez gave interrogators at Abu Ghraib the authority to use dogs to terrorise detainees, and they did, and we know what happened."

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