FT. BRAGG, N.C. — Senior Army criminal investigators testified Tuesday that the inmates who were abused and sexually humiliated last year at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were of little or no intelligence value to the United States.
"They were of no military intelligence significance for us," Special Agent Paul Arthur said of the detainees, many of whom were photographed in humiliating poses with their clothes off -- stacked and chained into human pyramids or forced to assume sexual positions. "Only two had even been interrogated out of the whole group."
The officials testified on the first day of a weeklong preliminary hearing in the case against Pfc. Lynndie England, one of six Reserve soldiers who face possible court-martial as a result of the abuse. A seventh has pleaded guilty. England's case is being heard by Col. Denise Arn, who will recommend whether the matter should proceed to a court-martial.
The investigators said Tuesday that they had found no reason to believe that any of the soldiers' superiors bore responsibility for the abuse, much of which was captured in photos disclosed this spring that provoked outrage worldwide and set back the U.S. cause in Iraq.
They also said the fact that the prisoners were of no intelligence value undercut the claims of the accused soldiers, who have asserted that they were encouraged or ordered by military intelligence officers to mistreat the detainees.
The diminutive England was featured prominently in several of the images. On Tuesday the 21-year-old, seven months pregnant and dressed in Army fatigues, sat quietly at her lawyers' side in the third-floor courtroom here. She did not speak but occasionally nodded during breaks to her mother, Terrie England of rural West Virginia, who was sitting behind her.
When military prosecutors and witnesses discussed many of the sexual photographs, especially those in which England was involved, she turned her face and dropped her head.
Her attorney, Richard A. Hernandez, said frustration has set in as the intimate details of her sex life have become public knowledge.
"Of course she regrets things. Every one of us has done things in our teens and early 20s we have come to regret," Hernandez said after Tuesday's session. He compared the sexual activities depicted in the photos to antics at "Mardi Gras and spring break."
Hernandez also blasted the government for holding a few rank-and-file soldiers accountable for a "systemic problem" in Iraq. He said it was "far from the truth" that interrogators and senior officers were not aware of what was happening at Abu Ghraib.
"You've heard only one side of the story," he said.
The abuse took place in the prison's Tier 1A, which was ostensibly reserved for "high value" prisoners who were to be interrogated for information about the uprising against U.S. troops.
Special Agent Warren Worth, who with Arthur helped conduct the initial military investigation and reviewed the crime scene and other evidence, testified that most of the detainees were captured for attacking coalition forces in Iraq or committing crimes against fellow Iraqis.
Worth and Arthur testified that the abuse was the work of a small group of prison guards. Other investigations are underway into whether higher-ups in the chain of command created a climate that allowed the abuse to take place or condoned it.
"I never heard anybody make statements about persons higher up, like a platoon leader or a company commander," Worth said. "I had no [indication] they were involved or knew what was going on."
Arthur was adamant that senior officers were in the dark. "From the get-go, it seemed it was just a joke to [the soldiers]," he said. "And frustrations that these detainees might have been involved in hostile action against coalition forces. But really they just wanted to have fun. They kind of wanted to vent their frustrations."
No photos were shown in the courtroom, but there were graphic descriptions. Besides discussing pictures of naked and abused detainees, prosecutors and witnesses also referred to photos showing England and her boyfriend, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., having sex on the prison tier, in detainee cells and in their private quarters.
The accused guards have said that interrogators urged them to abuse prisoners. But according to Arthur and Worth, England admitted to only one incident in which she said she was told to mistreat the alleged rapists of a 15-year-old Iraqi boy.
Otherwise, they said, England told them she didn't object to being a prop in many of the now-infamous photographs and saw no need to alert Army superiors about abuse on Tier 1A.
"They were just joking around on the night shift," Arthur said.
But one incident got out of hand. Graner and another soldier wanted a dog handler to search the cell of a detainee suspected of trying to whittle down his cell bars. When the dog and its handler arrived, the detainee apparently made a move toward Graner, which prompted the dog to bite the prisoner.
Worth did not detail the nature of the wound but added that the matter was turned over to military intelligence officers to investigate.
England faces 19 charges of mistreatment and neglect of duty. If convicted, she could receive a maximum punishment of 38 years in prison.