A Soldier's Tale
By Tara McKelvey
It's mid-afternoon. In a playful mood, England lifts her son in the air. Carter, a husky toddler with the same chin as his father, Spc. Charles A. Graner, Jr., rips the prisoner badge from his mother's uniform and hurls it toward the wall. England stares at it, lying on the floor. Her mother and sister stare, too, trying to figure out what to do. Picking up the badge is against the rules. In fact, if England touches anything her family has handled, she'll be subjected to a full-body cavity search. As it is, she goes through a strip search after each of our four visits: "If you have your period, and you have a visitor, they make you take your tampon out afterward and squat and cough," she says. "You think those are mirrors?" England asks me, pointing to a row of reflective glass panes on the side of the room. "Those aren't mirrors. There are people on the other side, watching us the whole time."
Not surprisingly, rules are strict: Inmates have to rise at 5 a.m.; they have no choice in what they eat (tonight, macaroni and cheese); and they must perform chores like mowing the lawn, tending vegetable gardens, and folding the American flag. England, however, isn't allowed to take the flag down at the end of the day, "because I'm high-profile," she says. "Somebody might be on the golf course [nearby] and see me touching it" and maybe even snap a picture. She illustrates, clicking an invisible camera in the air.
Prisoners who break the rules "push buttons," England calls it are sent to "DeSeg." (Button-pushing includes such things as engaging in sexual activity with another prisoner.) "In DeSeg, they make you sit in isolation in a windowless room. You can't watch TV or read," she explains. "You have to sit at a desk. You can't sleep from reveille to nighttime." Sleep deprivation it sounds like one of the methods used on prisoners in Abu Ghraib. "Like a time-out," I add lightly, sensing England's tension. "You have no idea," she says, giving me a stony look.
And what about Graner? Make that "Shithead." That's what England calls him. She met him while processing his paperwork for the 372nd Military Police Company after he arrived in Cresaptown, MD, in November 2002. He was 15 years older. He used to follow her out to the smoking area. Graner didn't smoke, though; he just wanted to see her. "He was funny, the jokester," she says. "Was he too old for me? I didn't think about it at the time. He acted like he was 3 years old." He was loud, raunchy, and bad to the bone. "An outlaw," she calls him. Their affair started in March 2003, while they were stationed in Fort Lee.
"When Lynndie joined the army and was working at the reserve center in the U.S., she didn't know anybody. She was a really quiet girl," says former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib during England's stint. "Enter Charles Graner. Their paths cross for the first time. He's much older, and he's full of himself. He's just got that kind of personality."
"She was blown away," Karpinski continues. "She felt like someone was finally talking to her. Paying attention. He seemed far more experienced and worldly than anyone she knew. It only took a few short conversations. She was enamored with him."
"Graner was the total opposite of Jamie [Fike, England's husband]," says Jessie. "Lynndie told me, 'He's real open. He likes to do stuff. Wild things.'" England didn't know about his past. According to court documents, Graner beat his former wife, Staci Morris, and dragged her by the hair across a room. A former civilian prison guard, he'd also been accused in a federal lawsuit of assaulting an inmate at Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution-Greene in 1998 and putting a razor blade in the inmate's mashed potatoes.
England brought Graner home with her to Fort Ashby in early 2003. With a foul mouth and pierced nipples (they saw those later), he didn't make a good impression. That day, recalls Terrie, he stood in their living room and slowly looked around.
"Charles, you're more than welcome to sit down," she told him.
He remained standing.
"He couldn't wait to get out of there," says Terrie. "I don't know if he thought we were nothing or what. I said, 'You're nothing but trying to get into my daughter's pants.'
He said, 'No, ma'am, my intentions are honorable.'
He was blowing smoke up her ass.
I said, 'Here's the door and don't let it hit you on the way out,'" she recalls.
"We were just like, 'There is something wrong with this guy,'" says Jessie. "I don't know what. Maybe when he was born, something fell out of his ear that was supposed to be attached to his brain."
But England refused to give him up. In March 2003, she went with Graner and another soldier to Virginia Beach. During the trip, Graner took pictures of himself having anal sex with England. He also photographed her placing her nipple in the ear of the other soldier, who was passed out in a hotel room. Soon, it became their new game: Whenever Graner asked her to, England would strike a pose.
After the Virginia Beach expedition, England and Graner rented a car and drove to eastern Kentucky, where her parents and grandfather were turkey hunting in Daniel Boone National Forest. Sitting between Graner and her parents at a picnic table, England asked Graner to share some scenic pictures from their trip to Virginia Beach. Graner handed an envelope to England's father, who opened it and scanned the images, then handed them to Terrie. They showed nudity and sexual scenes. Apparently, Graner had given them the wrong vacation shots. "I was really bent out of shape," Terrie says.