FORT HOOD, Texas - Army Pfc. Lynndie England should be punished lightly for her crimes at Abu Ghraib because the Baghdad prison was a "poisonous environment" where abusive treatment of detainees was inevitable, a defense witness told a military jury Tuesday.
Stjepan Mestrovic, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University, said officers in charge failed to control the guards, creating stressful conditions that disoriented England and led her to take part in mistreatment of detainees.
"She was caught up in this chaotic situation like everyone else," said Mestrovic, who also testified that officers at Abu Ghraib "knew or should have known what was going on."
That testimony was later supported by Pvt. Charles Graner, the reputed ringleader of the abuse, now serving a 10-year sentence. He said he once severely beat a detainee while military intelligence personnel watched.
England, the most recognizable of the nine enlisted soldiers charged in the scandal after photos of the abuse became public, was convicted Monday on six of the seven counts against her.
The charges against the 22-year-old reservist from rural West Virginia carried up to nine years in prison. It was unclear whether she would testify Tuesday.
England was photographed at Abu Ghraib holding a naked prisoner on a leash. In other images, she posed with a pyramid of naked detainees and pointed at the genitals of a prisoner while a cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth.
Her court-martial was the last of the nine. Two Abu Ghraib guards were earlier convicted, and six other soldiers struck plea bargains. No officers have gone to trial, though several have received administrative punishment.
Graner testified that he, England and others who worked the overnight shift in a high-security section of Abu Ghraib had scant supervision.
"It seems like the junior soldiers were on their own," Graner said. "We had little leadership."
Graner said he told officers about detainee maltreatment, which he claimed was done on orders from military intelligence personnel. And at times, he said, military intelligence personnel were actually present for the abuse.
"I nearly beat an MI detainee to death with MI there," he said before Col. James Pohl, the judge, interrupted his testimony.
Also Tuesday, a New York psychologist said England came from an emotionally abusive family, was prone to depression and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder even before she was sent to Iraq.
Xavier Amador said England also had a deviant sexual relationship with Graner that affected her ability to know her actions were wrong.
"It changes your view of what's OK and what's not OK," he said. "You don't recognize indecent acts as readily as you would have."
During her trial England was depicted as having an overly compliant personality who wanted to please Graner, who she says fathered her baby.