Lynndie England: a Soldier, a Mother—and a Court-Martial
"She's very sorry," sister Jessica Klinestiver says of England, whose hair has begun to gray around the edges at 22. "She didn't want to be in those pictures. She didn't want to do any of that."
But she did. And on May 2, England pleaded guilty to seven charges relating to the Abu Ghraib abuse. Originally facing up to 16 years behind bars, she struck a plea deal that would allow her to spend a maximum of 30 months in jail. Even so, says Klinestiver, the Army private first class—now a single mother to 7-month-old Carter Allan—dreads the idea of prison. Carter "has started to say Mama," she says. "That's starting to bother her now—that her son knows who Mommy is, and she will miss his first steps, crawling, everything."
Army investigators testified during hearings last summer that England said she and other guards took the photos while "joking around, having some fun." But England's lawyers put a psychologist on the stand who said that she was oxygen-deprived at birth and had learning disabilities. That, they claimed, made her vulnerable to manipulation by her former boyfriend, ex-Cpl. Charles Graner, who she maintains is the father of her son. At her trial, England admitted to judge Col. James Pohl that what she had done was "not only morally wrong, it was legally wrong" and that she "was yielding to peer pressure," particularly from Graner, who is serving 10 years in prison for his part in the abuse. "I assumed it was okay because he was [military policeman]. He had a background as a corrections officer."
More than that, says England's mother, Terrie, 45, her daughter was "blindly in love, infatuated," with Graner, 36, who in a shocking development last month married former Spc. Megan Ambuhl (see box). "She would have done anything for him." Adds Klinestiver: "He kept nagging and nagging her was how she put it to me. She describes it as being a fool in love. When you first fall in love, you'll do anything."
In tiny Fort Ashby (pop. 1,350), W. Va.—where England grew up in a mobile home with Terrie, a home-maker, and dad Kenneth, 45, a laborer, Klinestiver and brother Josh, now 18—family and friends have been supportive of Lynndie. The response has been markedly different at Fort Bragg, N.C., where England awaited her court-martial for the past year, working on and off doing menial jobs on the base and living in a rented trailer with Terrie, who moved to be with her. "It has been hell, in one word," says Klinestiver. "Lots of people who are full-time Army give her nasty looks. It hurts her that some people don't like her."
Including, apparently, her ex. According to Terrie, Graner has denied paternity of Carter, even though his parents and sister have sent large boxes of clothes and toys to the child along with money for a baby bed. And he hasn't communicated with England since last May. "He called a few times after she was sent to Fort Bragg and then never called again," Terrie says.
Graner isn't talking about his new relationship with Ambuhl, or Carter Allan—who has the middle name of his father and grandfather. His lawyer, Guy Womack, would say only that "there appears to be doubt about who the father is." Reached at his Pittsburgh home, Graner's father, Charles Graner Sr., acknowledged the family had sent gifts, but would not talk further about the child. "People should leave Carter out of this," says Graner Sr. "For heaven's sake, he's just a little baby." A baby who will now be cared for by Klinestiver while England does time. And when she returns? Klinestiver says Lynndie hopes to move on. "She'll be coming back to Fort Ash-by," she says, "to find a job and to take care of her son."
Alexandra Rockey Fleming at Fort Hood