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FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept 27 (AFP) - Private Lynndie England pleaded with jurors not to separate her from her baby boy even though she has been found guilty of abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
"I was scared I'd have to leave him and he wouldn't know me when I returned and he wouldn't view me as his mother, he'd view me as a stranger," England said Tuesday after her lawyer asked her how she felt about her court martial.
England, who became infamous when photos of the diminutive soldier holding a naked prisoner by a leash were broadcast across the globe, was found guilty Monday of one count of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, four counts of maltreatment and one count of committing an indecent act.
The scandal brought international condemnation of the United States as it struggled to defend its March 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
England faces a maximum sentence of nine years in prison. There is no minimum sentence required. The same panel of five military officers who found England guilty will assign her sentence.
Her lawyers have tried to paint the 22-year-old private as a naive young woman whose learning disabilities allowed her to be manipulated by the ringleader of the abuse, Charles Graner, who at the time was her lover.
The prosecution used previous statements by England to show that she was laughing and having a good time while she and other soldiers forced detainees to masturbate, piled them naked into a human pyramid and took pictures of England pointing to the word "rapeist" (sic) scrawled on the naked buttocks of one man.
The defense introduced a number of witnesses who said a breakdown in the chain of command, a blurring of the role of military police and interrogators and confusion about the application of Geneva conventions created an environment in which deviant behavior became both acceptable and inevitable.
Graner, whose testimony led England to lose her plea agreement after military judge Colonel James Pohl declared a mistrial, continued to defend his actions at the prison.
In testimony Tuesday Graner said he had discussed the abuse with his superiors and their only reaction was to install a wooded wall so that the soldiers could abuse the prisoners without being seen.
"I nearly beat a military detainee to death with military intelligence there," he said.
During an unsworn statement at the conclusion of the sentencing phase of her court martial, England described how Graner wooed her and later abandoned her when she became pregnant with his child.
England spoke in stilted sentences and paused often during her statement, her head rolling slightly from side to side, her jaw clenching. She described a childhood where she was often confused and afraid to ask questions, and said other children made fun of her clothes and facial tics.
England's mother brought the 11-month-old baby into the court at the beginning of the private's statement but he had to be removed after a few minutes because he was crying.
At one point, her lawyer presented the jury with a photo of the baby at four months of age. When Captain Katherine Krul asked England why she had posed Cullen Allan England in front of a flag, England responded: "Because I'm still patriotic."
England is the ninth soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Graner got the harshest sentence: 10 years in a military prison. Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, the highest ranking soldier charged in the scandal, got eight years in his own plea bargain.
Most of the others got terms of six months to one year in plea deals.
No officer has been tried, though the prison's former commander, army reserve brigadier general Janis Karpinski, and military intelligence officer colonel Thomas Pappas were punished in nonjudicial proceedings.
England's conviction comes after Human Rights Watch said Friday that troops from the army's elite 82nd Airborne Division routinely beat and mistreated Iraqi prisoners at a base near Fallujah in central Iraq with the approval of their superior officers.
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