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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 May, 2004, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
Hometown shocked by scandal

By Clive Myrie
BBC correspondent in Fort Ashby, West Virginia

Picture of Iraqi prisoners being abused in Abu Ghraib jail (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
Lynndie England has become the face of the scandal
They are images that will haunt America's occupation of Iraq.

A smiling Lynndie England has been seen by the world - thumbs up, mugging for the camera as a group of naked Iraqi prisoners, with hoods on their heads and their hands tied, stand helpless beside her.

Then there is the picture of her staring down at a leash in her hand - and on the end of it, on the floor is a naked Iraqi prisoner, ensnared by his neck like a dog.

They're photographs taken as bizarre mementos, macabre souvenirs.

Now they could become iconic images, a stain on America's reputation that might take as long as a generation to erase.

And it is Lynndie England's face most linked to the horror.

What went wrong?

I went to her home town, Fort Ashby in West Virginia.

Perhaps ironically, it is the same state where Jessica Lynch was born.

Private Lynch is a different kind of fighting woman, held up as an example of all that is good about the US military.

Like Jessica's home town of Palestine, Fort Ashby is a God-fearing, patriotic place.

Lynndie England with her parents
Lynndie England's parents are now trying to avoid the media spotlight
There is a church on every corner, a flag on every porch.

It is also dirt poor. I went to the trailer park where Lynndie grew up.

There were four or five trailers next to each other, well kept. Their owners seemed house proud.

Tied around the banister of the steps leading up to the front door of Lynndie's family trailer were numerous yellow ribbons and stars-and-stripes rosettes.

I wanted to talk to her mother, to find out a little bit more about Lynndie.

But a note on the door said the family had gone away. They needed a break from all the media attention. They were very sorry.

It is hard to believe a 21-year-old woman, polite, caring, kind by all accounts, has helped rock the Pentagon and jeopardised the political career of one of President Bush's closest allies, Donald Rumsfeld.

What was it about the war in Iraq that turned her into a monster?

She was supposed to be a filing clerk or paper pusher, as her family describe her, at Abu Ghraib jail. What happened?

Following orders

I spoke to several people in Fort Ashby and they all came to the same conclusion.

Lynndie was a model soldier who did as she was told.

She must have been ordered to treat the Iraqi prisoners badly.

She must be just a scapegoat for the "higher-ups," who actually gave the orders.

Colleen Kesner, who runs the Corner Club Bar, says all the reservists who are now under investigation, including Lynndie, might have done terrible things.

But they were not acting alone.

It is America's little towns like Fort Ashby - with populations in their hundreds - all across the land that provide a sizeable chunk of the nation's armed forces.

Joining the military is often the only option for many young people when there are few job opportunities around.

The people of Fort Ashby are still proud of the soldiers in Iraq, despite the infamy of one of their own.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"[Lynndie England's] family have leapt to her defence"




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