In what is perhaps one of the strangest interviews of all time, the Guardian's Emma Brockes heads to Fort Ashby, West Virginia, to interview Lynndie England, the woman accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
England, who served 521 days in prison for her role in the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, is now living in a trailer with her parents in rural West Virginia, and spends most of her time with her lawyer, Roy, a Gulf War veteran who seems proud of his client's infamous conduct. England is perhaps the best known face of the Abu Ghraib scandal, as photographs showing her dragging a prisoner by a leash came to best represent the horrors being committed at the prison; the fact that England was a woman only horrified people more, and as Brockes notes, she "wasn't the only woman soldier in the photographs - Sabrina Harman and Megan Ambuhl were both court martialled for their roles - but England was the most arresting looking, like a 14-year-old boy who shouldn't have been there in the first place. Her legal defence, that she was unduly influenced by Specialist Charles Graner, the father of her child and the only soldier still serving time for abuses at Abu Ghraib, was compounded outside the courtroom by assumptions about her background; that she came from a place where people didn't know better."
Back in her hometown, England is now having trouble finding work, due to her record as a felon and her notoriety. She claims that she's received both hate mail and fan mail, and recalls her time at Abu Ghraib with a type of weird fondness, a laughter that springs up at strange times. When Brockes asks England about any female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, England responds, while laughing:"At one point we had four. Oh my God, this one, she was crazy. They had to take her to the loony bin. We called her the wolf lady coz she had all this hair. She was screaming and whatever."
England becomes incredibly defensive when Brockes suggests that perhaps Megan Ambuhl, a fellow female soldier, was smart enough to stay out of the photographs: "She didn't plan that. It just happened. She wasn't clever. She's a pothead. She was just there. She wasn't in a lot of photos because she didn't want to be. She would just walk away," and later claims that she was coerced into taking the photos by Specialist Charles Graner (who also happens to be the father of her son), ""I didn't want them. But he was so persistent. Go on! Just for me! If you loved me, you'd do it. I'm like, gee, OK just take the damned picture."
Though Graner is still in prison for his role in the scandal, as Brockes notes, "it is England's rather than Graner's face that will be remembered. The photographer invites England to accompany him for photos, but she is reluctant; she lingers at the table and fidgets. Roy jokes, 'How about I find you a hood and some wires?' England laughs, mirthlessly. 'You know me too well.'"
England tells Brockes that she's still processing the events that took place at the prison: ""I mean, I had a lot of time to think about it after the trial and what I'd learned. Thinking back ... I don't want to say I matured more, but I realised that I was so naive and trusting. But what happens in war, happens. It just happened to be photographed and come out. Of course, a lot of people said if you guys had just shut up or killed them, there wouldn't have been any trouble. I could think of it like that, but ... I mean, I don't even know how to describe it. They were the enemy. I don't want to say they deserved what they got, but they ... um. They ... This is my problem. I can't think of words."
Perhaps the weirdest element of the interview is the bubble England and her lawyer, Roy, seem to live in. Despite (or, perhaps due to) the fact that she and her child have to live in a trailer with her parents, that she can't get a decent job, she seems to latch on to the Abu Ghraib days like some people latch on to high school or college memories; one gets the sense that it was the only time she felt like she was wanted or belonged somewhere, a horrible idea, considering that the bond these people shared was the torture of other human beings. Though she says she'll be on antidepressants for the rest of her life, one wonders if she has even begun to process her actions or how they affected others; for now, it seems, England's life revolves around a sequence of hiding, passing the blame, and waiting for the rest of the world to forget.