Conflicting Portraits of Officer Charged Over Abu Ghraib

Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan in Baghdad. He denies allegations that he mistreated detainees and misled a commander.
Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan in Baghdad. He denies allegations that he mistreated detainees and misled a commander. (Courtesy Of Steven L. Jordan)
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan does not appear in any of the notorious images of detainee abuse that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison three years ago. Going into his tour in Iraq in 2003, he had no interrogation experience. And more than half a dozen military interrogators have said in recent interviews that Jordan had nothing to do with the hundreds of interrogations they conducted at the prison.

Nevertheless, Jordan, 51, is scheduled to become the first Army officer to face a court-martial for alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib. His trial will begin next month at Fort Meade. Investigators and military officials have painted Jordan as a liar and an abuser, the lone officer who should be held criminally accountable for one of the most devastating events of the Iraq war.

"I'm not guilty of anything to do with Abu Ghraib, and I'm tired of it," Jordan said in a lengthy interview last week. The interview was his first public comment since the abuse investigations began in early 2004. He said he is being scapegoated because, as a reservist, officials view him as expendable. "I'm saddened by the whole event, and I feel like I've been singled out for it."

Although the Abu Ghraib scandal has largely faded from the public eye, it has defined Jordan's every moment since January 2004. Sitting silently in an active-duty intelligence job at Fort Belvoir while the Army mulled charges for years, Jordan has suffered stress-related brain lesions, is enduring a divorce and is in counseling for post-traumatic stress over a nighttime mortar attack that killed two soldiers and left shrapnel in Jordan's body just days after he reached Iraq.

Jordan still breaks down into tears when talking of the attack.

Retired Staff Sgt. Mark Day, 48, who conducted about 100 interrogations of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003, said that Jordan was not involved in his interrogations and that senior interrogators and officers in Iraq had to approve controversial approaches. Jordan was not in the authorization chain of command, and his name does not appear on any of the dozens of signed interrogation requests obtained by The Washington Post.

The Army is "sacrificing him on the altar of public opinion while slowly letting everyone else fade out of view," said Day, who was never interviewed by Army investigators. "He's now a prisoner of his own service. He's been in prison now for four years, emotionally, physically and almost literally because he hasn't been able to return to civilian life."

Longing to return to his normal life and his three children, Jordan has been trapped by Abu Ghraib, forced to remain in the Army even as prosecutors have consistently recommended that he receive an administrative punishment that would effectively end his career. Two commanding generals have opted to send Jordan's case to court-martial, where he could receive 16 1/2 years in prison, even after an investigating officer in December suggested administrative avenues to "preclude continued disgrace for our Armed Forces in this matter and execute justice in this particular case."

The charges against Jordan center largely on two matters. First, he allegedly failed to supervise and train soldiers in proper interrogation methods and allegedly mistreated detainees one night in November 2003 when soldiers searched for contraband in the prison. Second, he allegedly misled Maj. Gen. George Fay during one of the Abu Ghraib investigations and later allegedly ignored an order not to discuss the investigation.

None of the charges are linked to photographs of abuse, as numerous criminal cases against military police officers and military intelligence soldiers have been. Prosecutors allege that Jordan illegally approved the use of dogs in interrogations to determine whether Iraqi police officers had passed a gun to a detainee and that he allowed soldiers to use nudity as an interrogation tactic. Prosecutors declined to comment about the case last week.

Documents relating to the "roundup" on Nov. 24, 2003, note that numerous Iraqi police officers were strip-searched for contraband and that dogs were used to search for a grenade that had reportedly made its way into the prison. According to investigative reports, Ameen Mohammed Sami al-Sheikh, a Syrian detainee who was then 31 years old, had obtained a Chinese snub-nosed 9mm pistol and shot at Jordan and other soldiers from his cell. Afterward, soldiers determined that the detainee had obtained the gun and some bayonet-style knives from Iraqi police officers who were helping him try to kill a U.S. soldier.

Prosecutors allege that Jordan, as the most senior officer on the scene, either directed soldiers to use dogs in unauthorized interrogations or failed to stop the "forced nudity and vigorous interrogation." Officers more directly involved in developing and using aggressive techniques -- including a colonel who admitted to improperly authorizing the use of dogs -- have either received administrative punishments or been spared.

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