FT. HOOD, Texas — Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the Army reservist whose grinning, thumbs-up image came to symbolize the worst of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, told a military judge Monday that she knew the detainee abuses were wrong but went along because of peer pressure.
Offering the most ordinary explanation to a scandal that ignited international outrage, England said she posed in some of the widely circulated photographs showing humiliating abuses of detainees to placate her then-boyfriend and others from her Maryland-based unit.
"I had a choice, but I chose to do what my friends wanted me to," England, 22, said in a glum voice as she pleaded guilty to mistreating detainees at the notorious Baghdad prison. "They were being very persistent and bugging me, and I was like, OK, whatever."
England became one of the most visible and polarizing figures in the prison abuse scandal when the notorious photographs of naked and hooded detainees enduring abuses at the hands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq became public a year ago.
The 5-foot, 1-inch soldier with the pixie haircut was shown flashing a thumbs-up behind a pyramid of naked prisoners in one photograph. In another, she has a cigarette clenched in her teeth as she grins and points at the genitals of a naked detainee. In one of the most vivid pictures from the scandal, England is shown holding a leather leash tied around the neck of a prisoner lying on the cellblock floor.
Those photographs stood in stark contrast to the image of England when she returned to the United States early last year, pregnant by the reputed ringleader, Charles A. Graner Jr. and facing more than three decades in a military prison for her role in the abuses.
England pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of conspiracy, four counts of mistreating detainees and one count of dereliction of duty.
England, who gave birth to a son in October, now faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in military prison.
A jury composed of Army officers and enlisted soldiers will be seated today to recommend a sentence for England as part of a penalty hearing expected to last several days.
England was one of seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company charged with humiliating and assaulting prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Four other members of the 372nd and two low-level military intelligence officers have entered guilty pleas in the abuse scandal and received sentences ranging from no time to 8 1/2 years.
Spc. Sabrina Harman, a former Abu Ghraib guard, is scheduled to go to trial at Ft. Hood next week.
Graner was convicted at a trial here in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Monday, Graner was back at the court building at Ft. Hood, called as a possible witness for England in the penalty phase of her proceedings.
England's attorneys are expected to argue as part of their mitigating case that England was led astray by Graner, whom she frequently sneaked out at night to visit at the prison's cellblock.
They are also expected to present evidence that England has suffered from mental problems and learning disabilities.