Private Lynndie R. England, five foot one with short brown hair, is one of the soldiers in the middle of the Abu Grahib prison abuse scandal. Famously pictured casually smoking a cigarette whilst pointing at the genitals of a male prisoner, this twenty one year old from West Virginia has found herself at the centre of events that threatened to undermine all the coalition's work in Iraq. I am going to attempt to chronicle the events that lead up to her present situation in as unbiased a way as possible.
Lynndie was born on the 8th of November 1982 in Ashland, Kentucky. Her parents were Kenneth and Terrie England. Soon after her birth, Kenneth got a job as a railroad worker in Cumberland, Maryland, the nearest place the Englands could find to live in a trailer park, just outside the town of Fort Ashby, West Virginia, about ten miles south of the state border. Fort Ashby was, and still is, a very small community of just over one thousand people, of whom; ninety nine percent are white Caucasian. By some accounts, the Ku Klux Klan had a very active and popular presence here. It was in this very conservative stranger-fearing neighbourhood that Lynndie grew up.
Lynndie's childhood was fairly typical for a girl brought up in a poor country area. She would go hunting with her family and she regularly attended the local church. As a child, she used to love stormy weather and her mother reportedly had to drag her out of them and into the shelter. Her childhood dream was to be a storm chaser. Lynndie was, by all accounts, a bright child; an honours student at Frankfort High School in Ridgeley. She was rarely in trouble at school, but was known for wearing camouflage fatigues and combat boots. When she was seventeen, Lynndie worked a night shift at a chicken-processing factory, a job she hated. After a few months working there she decided to quit, but, needing to save money to go to college, signed up to the army reserves.
After graduating in 2001, Lynndie worked as a cashier in the local outlet of the supermarket chain IGA. There she met James L Fike. After a whirlwind romance, the two married in 2002, but divorced a few months later. At this time Lynndie was also a member of the NFO, the National Future Farmers of America Organisation, a conservative group that promotes bargaining and "playing square with those whose happiness depends on me." In March 2003, America attacked Iraq and Lynndie was called up. Despite being something of a tomboy, Lynndie had wanted a desk job, and so she was given the job of processing new Iraqi inmates in Saddam's old prison and torture centre, Abu Grahib.
Lynndie was part of the 372 Military Police Company and was charged with processing prisoners. She has been described by her father as "an administrator, a paper pusher." However, as time wore on and the American "victory" in Iraq seemed less and less secure it was deemed more and more important that information should be extracted from prisoners. Because of this change in atmosphere Lynndie found herself a part of "psy-ops" the military term for psychological techniques used to break down prisoners and make extracting information easier.
According to her father, Lynndie was not an interrogator herself. She was working in an office, but in her off hours, she would go and see her friends working in the prison itself attempting to extract information from detainees. Other sources say that Lynndie was in deeper, and was in fact a member of a team who's task it was to soften up prisoners before they were questioned. Either way, Lynndie had one key resource at her disposal that many of the others on psy-ops didn't: she was a woman. For various cultural and religious reasons, it is very humiliating for an Iraqi man to be seen being controlled by a woman, and the interrogators believed this would give them an edge in extracting information. For whatever reason, Lynndie agreed to have her photograph taken whilst pointing at a prisoner's genitals. In a later statement, Lynndie told the interviewers that she had been told by people in her chain of command to have her picture taken with the prisoners, that it was "working" and that she should keep doing it.
It should be noted though that Lynndie's involvement did not stop with merely having her photo taken with prisoners who had been abused by others. There is great evidence to suggest that she was more actively involved with the abuses. Although they have not been made publicly available, it is rumoured that there are many more images featuring Lynndie and more shockingly, videos of her having sex with her boyfriend, Specialist Charles Graner, and other guards in front of Iraqi prisoners. Still, it must be pointed out, that it does not seem that Lynndie did more than attempt to humiliate detainees into giving up valuable information; the most extreme picture that has come to light is of her holding the end of a lead with a prisoner crouching on the end "like a disobedient dog." Lynndie maintains that she did nothing more than pose like that for the cameras. However, in an interview with another member of 372 Military Police Company, it was reported that prisoners had been forced to masturbate in front of soldiers and that Lynndie was heard to shout, "he's getting hard!"
It is, however, widely speculated that Lynndie's role in the abuse goes much further. Those familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment carried out by Philip Zimbado will be aware of the effects the pathology of power has on people. The experiment itself is detailed in another node, in summary, a group of students were arbitrarily split into a guards group and a prisoners group. The guards were given no training and instructed to guard the prisoners. After only a few days the guards began abusing the prisoners and by the eighth day of the experiment the situation had gotten so inhumane that Zimbado called an end to it, six days before he had planned to. Is it possible that in the remarkably similar circumstances of Abu Grahib the same thing happened to Lynndie England? Much of the press certainly seems to think so.
So could a girl who is described by her family and friends as "sweet and caring" really, knowingly, abuse other human beings in such an horrific way? It is possible. What is more, there is evidence to suggest that Lynndie, through no direct fault of her own, may have already been prejudiced against those who she was supposed to be "processing." A resident of Fort Ashby were Lynndie grew up said "to the country boys here, if you're a different nationality, a different race, you're sub-human. That's the way girls like Lynndie are raised. Tormenting Iraqis, in her mind, would be no different from shooting a turkey. Every season here you're hunting something. Over there, they're hunting Iraqis." If that is indeed the case, then perhaps Lynndie was more predisposed towards abusing the prisoners than others.
Lynndie herself maintained that she was asked to commit the abuses by her superiors, but she refused to specify exactly who, preferring instead to refer to them as "persons in my chain of command." When later questioned by reporters, she told them that she didn't actually want to be photographed, but didn't think it anything out of the ordinary. More than anything this suggests a lack of education regarding how prisoners should be treated, although it could be argued that people should not need to be told that there are some things you do not do to people. It has been the case since the end of the Second World War that following orders is not an excuse for irresponsible actions, but it is also the case that in the United States military, failure to follow and order from a senior commissioned officer can ultimately result in the death penalty. In addition to that, experiments carried out by Stanley Milgram in the nineteen fifties show that most people will do something that they are morally uncomfortable with if a superior tells them to, even though they are aware they don't absolutely have to do it. It is perhaps unsurprising then that when someone brought up in a xenophobic atmosphere is placed in a position of power over people from another country and is ordered to abuse them, for the greater good, by people she is trained to obey, she does so.
Lynndie came back to Fort Ashby for Christmas 2003. According to one of her friends she seemed to have changed a lot. She had lost over a stone in weight and when a thunderstorm formed over the town, she dove for cover, believing that they were under attack. According to her family, she spent most of the holiday sleeping, not saying very much. After she returned to her company in the New Year, she seems to have discovered that what she had done might be about to go public. Under orders not to give too much away, she made a phone call to her mother saying that, "I just want you to know there might be some trouble." January passed without incident for Lynndie, as did February, March and much of April. Then, on the 29th of April 2004, CBS's 60 minutes II screened the first photographs of the abuse. Within two days, the whole of the world's press were running the story on their front pages. One of the most overused pictures was one of Lynndie England pointing at an Iraqi's genitals and giving the thumbs up.>
As soon as US Army authorities identified her, Lynndie was arrested and held in detention at Fort Bragg where she awaited trial. Some newspapers and bulletins demonised her straight away and editorials referring to her as "the bitch" appeared. Lynndie's family were swamped with phone and house calls from the press and after less than a week decided to leave their home until it died down. For a few days there was some respite as the Mirror published what are now known to be faked photographs of alleged British abuse, but attention soon returned to the alleged US abuse.
On Friday the 7 of May, it was revealed that Denver based attorney, Rose Mary Zapor, would be one of those to represent Lynndie. Rose had a professional relationship with Brian Maass, a reporter for Poynter Online. Several months earlier, Maass had conducted an interview with one of Zapor's clients who had been involved in a similar case where there was video evidence of prisoner abuse being committed and Zapor believed that he had been "professional, accurate, and fair." Realising he had a chance for a scoop, Maass contacted Zapor and requested another interview. Zapor agreed and on Saturday 8th of May, Maass travelled to Fort Bragg with a camera crew. Upon arriving, he and Lynndie's lawyers worked out a deal in which he would be able to talk to her for four hours, of which two could be filmed. This surprised Maass, he had only anticipated a few minutes and because of this in fact had time to buy Lynndie lunch at a Burger King (two bacon cheeseburgers, fries and a Sprite).
The interview itself was revealing. Lynndie told Maass repeatedly that she was acting on orders from her superiors, but refused to name anyone. She also told him that although she knew the techniques used were unpleasant for the prisoners, she didn't believe that it was worse than what Iraqis had done to American soldiers. Maass also reported that Lynndie seemed very tired, but did not appear to regret her actions. One incident of note came up when Maass questioned her about the Geneva Convention and what training she received. According to Lynndie, they had been taught how to feed, count and lock up prisoners and not much more. Zapor, however, noted that once a year, all soldiers were instructed in the provisions of the Convention but is wasn't reinforced when they were on the ground in Iraq. Lynndie also mentioned that after the facts had come out, she had been shown a document that had the Geneva conventions written on it and asked to sign to confirm she had read it. She did so, but made sure to date her signature so that it couldn't be claimed later that she knew the Conventions.
Lynndie has now revealed that she is expecting a baby and that the father is believed to be her boyfriend, Specialist Charles Graner. Some see the timing of this revelation as suspicious, it seems the baby was conceived in January, around the time Lynndie realised the photographs had been released. Some suspect that she deliberately became pregnant in the hope of getting a lighter sentence. Others, however, see this as malicious and unfair to her. Lynndie still awaits trial for "multiple assaults, on several occasions," "committing indecent acts upon a prisoner," "conspiring with Specialist Charles Graner to humiliate prisoners" and "committing acts that discredit the mission of the U.S. military." She could face anything from a reprimand to discharge and imprisonment.
This will be updated the very instant I get around to it.