By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade.
The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings.
Fay's failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan's potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.
It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan's case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine.
Jordan, 51, is the last soldier to face charges related to the Abu Ghraib abuses and the only officer to go to court-martial for alleged crimes there. A jury panel of nine Army colonels and one brigadier general is expected to hear opening statements in the case today, and yesterday each member told the court -- under questioning by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, one of Jordan's defense attorneys -- that they would not use Jordan's trial as "a referendum on Abu Ghraib."
Maj. Kris Poppe, another one of Jordan's attorneys, entered pleas of not guilty for him in court yesterday.
Initial probes -- including the Fay investigation -- appeared to single out Jordan as the officer most responsible for the abuses seen in numerous infamous photographs, but his attorneys have argued that Jordan played no role in interrogations and was not a commander for the military police soldiers who have been held criminally responsible.
Eleven low-ranking soldiers have been convicted as a result, and two commanders, both senior to Jordan, have received administrative punishments. Jordan, of Fredericksburg, is the only criminally charged soldier connected to the Abu Ghraib case who does not appear in the abuse photographs and who has admitted no wrongdoing.
In March, Fay testified under oath that he had read Jordan his rights before questioning him in 2004 about the Abu Ghraib abuses. Jordan, at the same hearing, testified that he never was read his rights.
Lt. Col. John P. Tracy, the lead prosecutor, said yesterday morning that Fay contacted authorities over the weekend to say that while going through papers in preparation for trial he realized he had never read Jordan his rights during interviews. A military judge ruled yesterday that Jordan's statements to Fay now cannot be used in the case.
Tracy said Fay "misspoke" at the earlier court hearing and wanted to change his testimony for the record. The judge, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley, promptly agreed to prevent a jury from hearing Jordan's statements and dismissed the two charges related to them.
The development was a significant victory for Jordan's defense attorneys, who had been arguing for suppression of the statements. Jordan gave extensive statements to Fay outlining his role at Abu Ghraib and explaining specific incidents for which he has been criminally charged. In May, Henley also tossed out statements Jordan gave to Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, because Taguba also did not properly advise him of his rights. Now, none of Jordan's statements can be used against him.
"It was something that we had asked the court to do a long time ago," Poppe said yesterday. "We believe it was the appropriate result."
Still remaining are charges that Jordan was derelict in his duty to train his soldiers in the use of controversial interrogation policies developed and approved in late 2003, such as employing military working dogs; that Jordan subjected Iraqi detainees to nudity and intimidation by dogs, resulting in cruelty and maltreatment; and that Jordan failed to obey Fay's order not to discuss the official investigation with anyone else. The charge of disobeying an order carries the longest possible sentence, five years in prison, while the dereliction of duty charges carry a maximum of 2 1/2 years and the cruelty charge one year.
The charges against Jordan largely relate to a single incident on Nov. 24, 2003, when military intelligence soldiers sought information about Iraqi police officers who provided a gun to a Syrian detainee at the prison. The detainee had used the gun to shoot at U.S. troops, including Jordan.
Prosecutors yesterday narrowed the scope of the cruelty and maltreatment charge against Jordan to Nov. 24, limiting the actual abuse of which he is accused to that one incident. According to investigative documents, soldiers strip-searched a group of Iraqi police officers that night and questioned some of them while military dogs were used to search for explosives.
Military intelligence interrogators at Abu Ghraib have said that Jordan, a civil affairs reservist who was assigned to conduct military intelligence work at the prison, had nothing to do with interrogations and acted more as a "mayor" for the outpost west of Baghdad.