Thursday, May 5, 2005

Hell Hath No Fury

From the New York Times:

The court-martial of Pfc. Lynndie R. England, accused of abusing naked Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison, was declared a mistrial on Wednesday when a military judge threw out her guilty plea over testimony by the convicted ringleader of the scandal and father of her baby.

The surprise mistrial canceled what had seemed to be a pro-forma punishment phase and sent the case back to the Army commander at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, for re-examination. Government and defense lawyers said they would meet as early as Thursday to consider their options.

The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, ordered the mistrial after Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., testifying on behalf of Private England, his former lover, portrayed their handling of a leashed prisoner as legitimate, contradicting her sworn admission of guilt and said she had acted at his request in helping to remove an obstructive prisoner from his cell.

“I was asking her as the senior person at that extraction,” Private Graner said.

Clearly taken aback, Colonel Pohl broke in, lecturing the defense lawyers. “If you don’t want to plead guilty, don’t,” he said. “But you can’t plead guilty and then say you’re not. Am I missing something here?”

Under an agreement accepted by the judge at Fort Hood on Monday, Private England, 22, pleaded guilty to seven of nine charges of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, maltreatment and indecent acts.

She did so in exchange for what people close to the prosecution said was no more than 30 months in prison, although the jury panel of six officers could impose a lower term.

Private England, who arrived at court with her 7-month-old son, Carter Allan, seemed bewildered by the turn of events, although she maintained her regular expression of indifference and answered reporters’ questions by motioning a hand across zipped lips. When Private Graner, 36, took the stand in uniform, she looked down, writing, but eventually gazed up at him.

The drama of the two former intimates and accused co-conspirators confronting each other across a courtroom went unaddressed, although the tangle of relationships has grown with a former wife of Private Graner on hand Wednesday to testify as a witness if called, and revelations that he recently married another convicted defendant, Specialist Megan M. Ambuhl.

Private England seemed to betray her feelings when she looked over the shoulder of a courtroom artist sketching Private Graner and commented, “You forgot the horns and goatee.”

Oh, this could get nasty. Anyone who’s watched enough Law & Order knows that a plea bargain going sour is the first sign that the defense strategy is beginning to crack. There’s a historical precedent for this. In 1973 Judge John Sirica began to question the defendants behind the Watergate break-in and found that the trail led all the way to the top. So Private England’s dislike for Private Graner — and the fact that he’s a complete cad — may have more consequences than just a storyline on Desperate Housewives.