Confirming that she plans to plead not guilty in her trial next month, defence lawyers on Thursday charged that military judge Colonel James Pohl could not conduct a fair trial and asked him to step down, but he refused.
England pleaded guilty to abuse charges in exchange for a reduced sentence in a deal with prosecutors at a trial in May, but the deal fell through when Pohl declared a mistrial.
He said testimony from England’s former lover, Abu Ghraib abuse ringleader Charles Graner, undermined her guilty plea.
England, who was photographed holding a leash to the neck of a naked Iraqi prisoner at the prison near Baghdad in late 2003, is scheduled for a new trial in August on abuse charges that could put her in prison for up to 11 years.
In a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, defence lawyer Captain Jonathan Crisp asked Pohl to remove himself from the case because of suspected bias.
He argued that Pohl asked “leading questions” in the May trial that prompted Graner into answers that undermined England’s plea deal.
“If you hadn’t asked the questions, the answers would not have been before this court”
Captain Jonathan Crisp,
“You led him down that road,” Crisp told Pohl. “If you hadn’t asked the questions, the answers would not have been before this court.”
But Pohl responded: “It’s not my job to preserve the plea.”
Crisp retorted in the heated exchange: “It’s not your job to destroy the plea.”
Pohl refused to step aside, saying: “Explain to me, Captain Crisp, why it is my fault that Private Graner testified inconsistently with his pre-trial statement.”
With the plea bargain dead, England will plead not guilty and fight the prosecution’s case, Crisp said.
England is the last of a group of low-ranking soldiers charged with abuse at the Iraqi prison where the United States kept thousands of prisoners after invading the country.
Six soldiers have pleaded guilty, while two others, including Graner, went to trial and were convicted. Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison.