Pfc. Lynndie England was acting independently when she posed last year in Abu Ghraib prison with naked and leashed prisoners, military investigators said Tuesday.
Most of the Iraqis whom England humiliated last fall and winter had no intelligence value, the prosecution witnesses said on the first day of a hearing that will help determine whether the West Virginia soldier should be court-martialed.
Warren Worth and Paul Arthur, members of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, said they found no evidence that anyone up the chain of command ordered the abuse -- a key assertion of England's defense. Defense attorneys have said England is being made a scapegoat for the incidents, which caused fury among Iraqis and dismay in the United States.
This spring's revelation of abuse at the Baghdad prison put a spotlight on England, a high school graduate who makes $19,000 a year as an activated reservist.
Seven months pregnant with the child of another soldier accused in the case, she and her mother had to walk a gantlet of 100 reporters Tuesday as she entered and left the building where the hearing is being held. England wore a maternity version of the Army's green camouflage uniform and a stoic expression.
England faces 19 charges, most related to prisoner abuse but some connected to nude and sexually explicit photos of herself and other soldiers. If found guilty of all the charges, she could be sent to prison for up to 38 years.
England, a member of the Army Reserve's 372nd Military Police Company based in Crespatown, Md., was assigned to a daytime administrative job in another building at Abu Ghraib, Worth said.
Worth, then based in Baghdad, was assigned to the case nearly from the beginning.
Another special agent, Arthur, led the investigation after a soldier knocked on his door at Abu Ghraib on Jan. 13 and handed him an envelope containing CDs of the abuse photos. That knock came at 10:30 p.m., he said, and by midnight, he had informed his superiors and had military police securing the living quarters of some thought to be involved.
Someone roused England and brought her in at 3:46 a.m., Arthur said. He advised her of her rights and took her first sworn statement, questioning her for about four hours. She was cooperative, only a little nervous, and said the acts depicted were no big deal, he said.
"They were just joking around, having some fun on the night shift," Arthur said.
England said nothing to indicate that she had been ordered to pose against her will, he said.
In one photo, England points at the genitals of a naked prisoner and gives the thumbs up. In another, she and Cpl. Charles A. Graner -- the father of her child -- pose with a pile of naked prisoners.
In all, seven reservists from the 372nd have been charged in the case. One, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to a year in prison.
Some accused in the scandal have said military intelligence officers told them to humiliate and mistreat prisoners to soften them up so that they would yield information. England contended that military police indicated that detainees needed "roughing up" in only one incident she and Arthur discussed, Arthur said.
On Tuesday, Arthur and Worth painted Graner and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II as instigators of the abuse. Arthur said their leaders put them in key roles because their unit hadn't had much training in how to run a prison, but they had experience. Graner was a prison guard in civilian life.
England told Arthur that Graner thought of putting a leash on a prisoner they had nicknamed "Gus," who was in solitary confinement. Graner found a tie-down strap and brought out the prisoner and then handed the makeshift leash to England.
The resulting picture shows the prisoner cringing on the floor as England looks down at him.
Under questioning from England's attorneys, the agents admitted that they hadn't looked deeply into procedures for interrogating prisoners because their focus had been on digging up the basic facts of the abuse.
Complicating the investigation, Worth said, was the messy organization among troops at the prison. They described the organization at Abu Ghraib as chaotic. Many units were "ad hoc" he said, with soldiers falling under different commanders.
"We did interview a lot of soldiers we thought were in the chain of command," Worth said.
Apparently three military intelligence soldiers were involved in the photo sessions, but Arthur dismissed as hearsay talk of orders from military intelligence to abuse prisoners. He said soldiers accused of abuse never named an intelligence soldier who issued such orders.
After the hearing stopped for the day, one of England's attorneys said the sexual photos of England with other soldiers had generated charges with some of the steepest potential sentences and that they should never have been used against her.
Investigators said that some photos depict England and Graner, who also has been charged, engaged in sexual acts. Others show England posing topless with a sleeping soldier.
England hadn't displayed the pictures, said defense attorney Richard Hernandez, and, in fact, investigators used special techniques to retrieve them from a computer after they had been erased.
"These are private, intimate photos that should have been kept that way, but the government is doing everything it can to scapegoat her," he said.
Hernandez said that those photos "were the kind of thing you'd see at Mardi Gras."
England regretted posing for all the photos, he said, but then, everyone has regrets about things they do in their teens and 20s.
The Army, he said, is trying to paint the situation as a small band of soldiers going out of control. He noted that the government gets to call its witnesses first, but the defense team soon will call its own.
"First you hear one side, then the other," he said.
The hearing continues today.
Staff writer Jay Price an be reached at 829-4526 or email@example.com.