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Icons Of The Iraq War: Abu Ghraib's Lynndie England And Prisoner Abuse

Saddam Saleh, a former prisoner at Abu Ghraib, shows a photograph at a 2004 press conference from the scandal that includes him in the middle of a group of naked prisoners being mocked by Lynndie England.
Abuse of Iraqis by U.S. soldiers at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison shocked and angered the world in April 2004 when leaked photographs were released by Western media.

Eleven American soldiers, including three women, eventually were convicted in the case. But it was a woman named Lynndie England -- a U.S. Army Reserve specialist in the 372nd Military Police Company -- who became the face of the scandal.

Some photographs showed England, then aged 21, holding a leash attached to a prisoner who was lying on the prison floor. Another showed her smoking a cigarette and pointing to a prisoner who was being forced to fondle his own genitals with a bag over his head.

England also posed together with her then-fiance Charles Graner behind a pyramid of naked prisoners, both of them laughing and making a "thumbs up" gesture.

The photographs, together with reports in "The New Yorker" magazine by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, raised serious questions about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by U.S. jailers and interrogators.

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At the heart of the debate was the issue of whether Abu Ghraib's abuses were acts by an isolated military police unit or systemic torture -- the result of an interrogation program created by the Pentagon.

Historic Setback

A 2008 investigation by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee determined that responsibility for the culture of abuse at Abu Ghraib ultimately lay with officials in U.S. President George W. Bush's administration -- including U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- because of policies that "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees."

Lynndie England leaves a courtroom at Fort Hood, Texas, on May 4, 2005.
Lynndie England leaves a courtroom at Fort Hood, Texas, on May 4, 2005.
Amnesty International researcher Carsten Jurgensen says human-rights gains that should have been made in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime have not materialized, partly because of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

"I think that we can say that there is a long, very long legacy of torture and abuse in Iraq from the days of Saddam Hussein," Jurgensen says. "What the foreign troops, the occupation powers, did certainly is by using also torture and other treatment against detainees, they contributed further to this legacy, as now the new Iraqi authorities are doing [also]."

As for England, she returned to the United States in March 2004 -- before she was charged in the Abu Ghraib case -- because she'd become pregnant -- allegedly by Graner. She gave birth to a boy in October 2004.

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At her court martial in May 2005, England was convicted of inflicting sexual, physical, and psychological abuse on Iraqi prisoners of war. She was sentenced to three years in prison and received a dishonorable discharge.

In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
England was released on parole on March 1, 2007 after serving 521 days of her three-year sentence.

Wrung-Out 'Ringleader'

She returned to her hometown of Fort Ashby, West Virginia, where she stayed with friends and family while working with author Gary Winkler on her authorized biography, "Tortured: Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib And The Photographs That Shocked The World."

England hoped the book would repair the damage to her reputation. She maintains that she was ordered to pose in the photographs by Graner, who outranked her.

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England still is having difficulty finding a full-time job because of her felony conviction, her dishonorable discharge, and her notoriety.

She says she regrets that the photographs were taken because they spawned deadly retaliatory attacks against U.S. soldiers. But she remains unapologetic toward her victims in the photographs.

At the age of 30, England now suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and is on antidepressant medication. She is raising her 8-year-old son as a single mother.

Graner refuses to see them and denies that the child is his. He was paroled after serving 6 1/2 years of a 10-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas -- having been convicted as the ringleader of the Abu Ghraib abuses.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq